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Building a Social Justice Movement for Kenya’s Urban Poor

Empowering Kenya’s urban slum communities to organize and use their collective voice to demand basic rights and public services.

Photo of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

Members of the target community are vocal about the challenges of living in urban slums where public services are virtually non-existent. Consumed with the daily difficulties of simply surviving, slum dwellers struggle to conceptualize alternative pathways for themselves and their families. Without an organizing mechanism and access to essential services, they remain marginalized and locked in survival mode (i.e., struggling to meet their psychological and safety needs). SHOFCO is a grassroots movement that aims to harness the voices and lived experiences of community members to determine what services SHOFCO provides to the community as we layer on direct services (girls’ education, economic empowerment programs, WASH, health clinics) to the SHOFCO Urban Network platform that forms the basis of our work. By reaching adults, unemployed youth, and children of primary and secondary school age, SHOFCO seeks to unlock the potential of all individuals in the community to thrive and prosper.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Urban poverty has fatal consequences when combined with ineffective governance and ethnic resentment. We saw this during the 2017 presidential election when SHOFCO’s peacekeeping efforts mitigated escalating violence in Kenya’s urban slums. SHOFCO seeks to dismantle the systemic issues facing urban slums, including: economic inequality, illegal status of slum dwellers, misconceptions of informal slum dynamics at the government level, and lack of community organization and collective action.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

Through SUN, we are demonstrating that it is possible to transform slum communities by helping them organize and participate in SUN activities (micro-insurance, peer-to-peer savings networks, peace rallies, sports tournaments). We aim to show that slum development is only successful when it engages the community as thought leaders and decision makers. Our track record will convince the Kenyan government that it is possible and necessary to invest in effective models for slum transformation.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

Through SUN, we aim to reach 1,000,000 urban slum dwellers by 2030. The result is that new Kenyan slums gain access to SUN, and community members are active in community events, grow their personal savings in our peer-to-peer savings networks, and community leaders are trained in leadership and governance. Overall, community members improve their living standards, and have the tools to achieve tangible change in their community and society at large.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

During the feedback phase and the user experience mapping exercise, we tested and refined our assumptions around the needs of community members, taking into account the vast range of individual experiences and challenges that each community member lives through. We have validated our understanding of what community members need and what motivates them to participate in SUN and/or other SHOFCO services. We also realize that what has worked in slums where SHOFCO currently has a presence may not work in slums where we are expanding, and so we are well-aware of the need for continued emphasis on participatory design, and being open-minded as we engage with new slum communities so that we can truly put the community in the driver's seat of this expansion phase.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

We aim to introduce the SUN model across the major slum communities in all 47 counties of Kenya by 2030. We will deepen our activities in existing slums including Kibera and Mathare of Nairobi, and we will establish the SUN program in new slums, starting with a focus on Mombasa. Our SUN Program Officers Godwin and Okwama will oversee expansion into new geographies and develop key relationships with community leaders. Over the next three years, implementation priorities will include: -Increase community activity on peacekeeping, cohesion, and anti-radicalization -Oversee all door-to-door campaigns for SHOFCO services across family planning, gender-based violence prevention, and water, sanitation & hygiene. -Establish SUN-YOUTH to consolidate all youth activities across SHOFCO (theater, sports, innovation club, etc.) and convene with other community groups. -Coordinate community clean-ups to promote community cohesion and cleanliness (government does not provide trash pick-up).

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

We use a lean staffing structure of 20 staff to run SUN in Kibera and Mathare. We will employ up to 10 staff per additional slum, leveraging community leadership and support. Our SUN Program Officers Godwin Oyindo and Erick Okwama have mobilized 300+ community groups in slums across Nairobi and will oversee expansion into new slums. Godwin joined SHOFCO as a youth member in 2011 and got a degree from Kenyatta Univ. in 2014. Okwama has 7 yrs. development experience and a degree in social work.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds would primarily support the following budget items: -Modest allocation for personnel, including salaries, stipends, benefits, and training. -Significant allocation towards program expenses including cost of community events, supplies, set-up of SMS-based communications platform. -Moderate allocation for capital expenditures, including cost of setting up community organizing centers (1 per slum) that provide community space for meetings and events, and basic furnishings.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

1. How should we pace our expansion into new slums? Our SUN Program Officers project that it is possible to begin the first phase of community engagement in a new slum every 3-4 months, such that each year we are bringing roughly 3-4 new slums online. Is it wise to plan for steady growth, or should we space this differently? This rate of expansion is more rapid than what we have pursued in the past. 2. How can we create formal but flexible mechanisms for SUN program staff from different sites to share lessons learned as they are all pursuing growth in parallel but at different stages of the process? How can we maximize knowledge exchange between our staff? What about between communities? 3. As we make a push to develop stronger relationships with the Kenyan government, and to call for the government to provide more resources to the slums and to our model, who can we learn from?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

The idea evolved due to beneficiary feedback, as we found that community members have mobile phones and are interested in receiving SMS-based communications. As this will be an effective way to increase engagement with community members, we are will explore how to integrate an SMS communication strategy in our outreach efforts. We gained further insights during the expert feedback phase, particularly around the rate of expansion into new slums (previously 3-4 slums per year, now 1-2 per year) and the staffing model for expansion. We had previously planned to add one staff members per new slum, and now we will add up to 10. By investing in human resources and slowing down the rate of expansion, we are setting more realistic expectations (for both internal and external stakeholders) and ensure optimal staff capacity. We also decided to invest more heavily in developing a formal communications strategy for sharing information and updates with both internal and external stakeholders.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Please note that we intend to incorporate the considerations and feedback that our expert reviewer shared, and further details on these changes are reflected in our comments to the reviewer: -- Re: rate of expansion. You make a great point about 3-4 new settlements being an ambitious pace for expansion. What makes timing most difficult to predict is the push-pull dynamic of gaining traction in a community: as SHOFCO seeks to expand into new settlements, we will conduct exploratory outreach and relationship building with community leaders, and our philosophy is to launch in new settlements only once community leaders have extended a formal invitation for us to do so. We agree that scaling back to 2 new settlements per year, at least in Year One, is more reasonable, even if that turns out to be a conservative estimate. -- Re: communications strategy: Having a communications strategy around SHOFCO’s expansion of SUN that speaks to a local Kenyan audience and can also be shared with external stakeholders more broadly will be critical to our success. We have an in-house marketing team based in Nairobi that produce videos, printed material, and social media content that translate to both audiences. Most individuals in the communities where we work have limited access to technology, so we communicate primarily via SMS messaging. We recently brought a new Director of Marketing on board and she will determine the staffing needs for our SUN-related communications. -- Re: staffing. Regarding the note about broadening staff leadership for SUN, we plan to build around the leadership of Godwin and Erick, who will continue to hone their expertise as the SHOFCO leaders that initiate exploratory conversations in new settlements. They have developed skills in identifying and connecting with key community leaders, and mobilizing community members as SUN Coordinators in the different communities where we work, so that they can transition leadership to SUN Coordinators over time. We see lots of potential for them to grow as leaders of SUN expansion, and so any expansion of the SUN staff will likely be focused on supporting them and/or overseeing SUN activities in slums where we already have a well-established presence.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

-- Rate of expansion updated from 3-4 new slums per year to 1-2 per year, at least to start. -- Staffing plan expanded to include up to 10 new SUN staff per new slum, up from our previous proposal of 1 new SUN staff member per slum. We currently run a full-fledged SUN network in Kibera and Mathare reaching 220,000 people total with 20 SUN staff, so we may not need 10 staff right away in a new slum where we are working with only hundreds or several thousands of people from the start. -- Investment in developing a more formal communications strategy and SMS platform for communications with individuals in new slum communities where we are exploring the potential to launch, particularly at the outset of our engagements.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

SHOFCO has an ambitious 3-year plan to build the strength and resilience of urban slum communities to play an active role in determining Kenya’s development priorities. To achieve this goal, we will expand a key component of our model, the SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN). SUN provides a structure and platform for community members to express and enact their vision and demands for their communities. We aim to expand to 3-6 new slums over the next 36 months, representing a significant expansion for SHOFCO in Kenya. SUN is a simple, replicable model that gives voice to poor urban communities. It is inclusive: anyone can join and weigh in on community development priorities. SUN members select issues of importance to each community group, and SHOFCO helps community groups implement these services and demand any changes or improvements. Using this demand-driven approach, SUN is the backbone of SHOFCO’s expansion into new communities. As part of SUN, members gain access to: a micro-life insurance program, community savings groups, the SUN scholarship program (currently sponsoring 188 high school students), and career-focused workshops and networking events. In addition to being a powerful organizing tool, SUN links community members to other basic services that SHOFCO provides (including clean water and sanitation, health care, vocational training, entrepreneurial training, and girls’ education). Our SUN facilitators are elected community members that conduct outreach on a regular basis so that members know what services are available and how to access them. We also use SMS. Our vision is to scale the SUN program to be a national platform for grassroots organizing that transforms slum communities across Kenya, giving millions of individuals a chance to thrive. When community members are mobilized and empowered to demand basic services and rights, they are more likely to make choices that lead to better livelihoods for themselves, their families, and their neighbors

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

In Nairobi, ~3-5 million people live in urban slums, or 60% of the city population. An estimated 61% (29 million) of Kenya's total population live in slums. Urban slums are a growing problem, with Kenyan cities adding 500,000 people per year, putting pressure on urban slums, where space is extremely constrained and public services non-existent. In 2017, we had over 40,000 SUN members, Over half of SUN members are youth (under age of 35), and we had 20% more youth engaged last year compared to 2016. Among SUN facilitators, over half are women.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

SHOFCO is the only organization of its kind in Kenya. Due to significant media attention and powerful Kenyan advocates, SHOFCO is a recognized and respected brand in Kenya. This increase in public awareness presents a unique opportunity to leverage grassroots and global visibility with the government and other actors. SUN’s success rests on its inclusive, organized structure. We recognize many disparate networks of slum-dwellers and unite them around a long-term community vision, effectively creating a unified platform from which to mobilize. Our model is unique in that members willingly pay nominal monthly fee (no other network does this), ensuring buy-in and ongoing, consistent participation. This $1 fee goes towards critical services and support for the community (including funeral services). Furthermore, SUN facilitates connections across different tribes and different slums. We do this to build a cohesive national platform, and promote shared learning.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Since 2009, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) has been transforming the lives of urban slum-dwellers in Kenya. SHOFCO has a three-part model: we deliver basic services, mobilize the community for collective action to address pressing needs, and provide education for women and girls. Our goal is to combat extreme poverty by providing holistic services so people can thrive, and by harnessing the power of community participation to drive large-scale social change. Visit for more.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Kennedy Odede started SHOFCO in 2004 with passion, 20 cents, and a soccer ball. Growing up in Kibera, he experienced extreme poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, and -- at the same time -- the palpable hope of people who sought something different for themselves, their families and their communities. SHOFCO officially started in the U.S. in 2009 in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. Over time, communities in other slums saw and heard about SHOFCO’s work and invited us to work with them.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace in urban slums is impacted by: violent crime, gender-based violence, gender inequality, poverty, political instability, tribal tensions, lack of licit employment opportunities, and swelling slum population that puts stress on available space and resources. Prosperity is impacted by: lack of economic opportunity, illness or hunger (and lack of access to health or sanitation services) preventing people from holding down a job, lack of education or vocational training to qualify for skilled professions, financial illiteracy and lack of savings, lack of access to basic public services, stigma attached to living in the slums.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We believe in the urban poor, in their strength, resilience, and capacity to create a better future. Our services are demand-driven -- we only work in slums where we have been invited by the community, and we work closely with community members to understand their needs and priorities. We believe the most sustainable form of development comes from the community and those most affected. Communities actively seek out SHOFCO and request that we bring the SUN organizing model to their community. Our vision is to scale the SUN program to be a national platform for grassroots organizing that benefits millions of Kenya’s urban poor. SHOFCO is now active in four slums in Nairobi (Kibera, Mathare, Mukuru, and Kwangware) as well as one slum in Mombasa (Bangladesh). In 2017, SHOFCO served over 220,000 individuals. Over the next several years, we plan to expand into urban Nairobi, Mombasa Kisumu, Eldoret, and Nakuru. We will work alongside community leaders and community members.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

-- SHOFCO was recently honored with a visit from the First Lady of Kenya in an unprecedented visit to Kibera, and now benefits from government endorsement of our work. We feel this will help fuel our ambitious plan. -- SHOFCO’s SUN model works with pre-existing small community groups, while providing legitimacy and an overarching structure to organize groups and community members. -- Communities have a surplus of young people who are often unemployed and seeking leadership opportunities.

Geographic Focus

Urban slums in major cities across Kenya.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)


Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

Attachments (1)

SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN).pdf

Overview of the SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN) program.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lizzy Igbine

I am inspired by the work of (Shofco)Shining hope for Communities. It is really an amazing work. Shofco is really shining hope in Kenya. The award will help them drive their project to Communities and end Urban Slump in Kenya.

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