January 15, 2023

This Kenyan slum has something to teach the world

Against all odds, Kibera is a place of hope, and it offers a lesson in bottom-up development that the world should learn from.


This article was originally published by The New York Times. An excerpt has been reposted below.

The tale begins with a boy whose single mom — 15 years old when she gave birth — named him Kennedy, because she wanted him to be like an American president she had heard of. Little Kennedy Odede didn’t attend formal school, and at the age of 10 he ran away from a violent stepfather and ended up sleeping on the streets.

Kennedy taught himself to read and was inspired by a biography of Nelson Mandela that a researcher shared with him. Kennedy, ebullient and charismatic, then formed a Kibera self-help association called Shining Hope for Communities, better known as SHOFCO.

Let’s just acknowledge that development is hard, particularly in urban slums that are growing fast around the world. Billions of dollars are poured into the poorest countries, and in Haiti and South Sudan one sees fleets of expensive white S.U.V.s driven by aid organizations; what’s missing is long-term economic development. International aid keeps children alive, which is no small feat. But it has had less success in transforming troubled places.

That’s where SHOFCO is intriguing as an alternative model. Its grass-roots empowerment approach has similarities with BRAC, a Bangladesh-based development organization that I consider one of the most effective aid groups in the world, and with Fonkoze, a similar homegrown nonprofit in Haiti.

Read the rest of the article here.