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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.

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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 triple the number of slums that we work in over the next 36 months.

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 students in high school), 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.

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