Taking the plunge: How to start a social venture

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In a previous post, I talked briefly about my experience starting a social venture in 2011, at a government rehabilitation center in Nairobi, Kenya. Two to three times a week, I and a few other volunteers taught music theory, voice, and piano to a group of teenage boys. Despite the lack of know-how in kick-starting and sustaining ventures, we continued to teach, counsel, and inspire these boys until two years later when I closed out the project. In my opinion, this was my greatest career achievement to date.

I had good intentions starting that project and I must admit that being the idealist that I am, I envisioned the project taking off smoothly with no problems and becoming a great success to the extent of modeling that approach to various other rehabilitation centers in and out of Nairobi. However, this was not the case. I quickly learned that passion alone cannot sustain a venture. While it is one of the many ingredients of a successful project, there are a myriad of other factors to take into account when starting a social venture.

ttpq2If you are planning to start a social venture, here are a few points you can consider.

1. Research

At the beginning of the venture, carry out research about the community you are planning on engaging with. A needs assessment therefore becomes an important tool in evaluating community needs. It includes collecting information as regards opinions, problems and how the community rates these problems, allowing the community members to make and be a part of the important policies that ultimately affect them and lastly, to garner community members’ support. In addition, do not underestimate the power of culture when initiating projects in communities. One interesting yet sobering example of good intentions failing was a project dubbed Kaalokal Fish Project. In 1986, the Norwegian Government pumped a staggering amount of $152 million to alleviate food scarcity and poverty in Turkana. However, this project failed miserably with the abandonment of the fish-freezing factory, which is now only used to store small amounts of dry fish. One of the contributors to this failure was the prevailing culture in Turkana. Because the Turkana people are solely a pastoralist community, they do not value fish as their dietary staple.

In doing research, you may find that what you thought was a pressing need for your beneficiaries is actually not a need to them. It is critical for you to evaluate your intentions going ahead. Getting rid of a savior mentality allows you to have empathy for your beneficiaries that leads to their growth.

ttpq32. Stakeholder Management

When kick-starting a project, carry out a stakeholder analysis. This involves identifying who your stakeholder’s are, the amount of power, influence and interest that they have. This is key, as your stakeholder’s ultimately determine how successful your project can be.

In my case, the key stakeholder’s were the students and the administration. Both groups had high power, influence and interest. This means that I needed to create the most buy-in with them. I did this by communicating my vision through meetings and allowing them to own the program.

One valuable lesson I learned is the need to clarify what you are able and not able to do. You may start a social venture with the view to transform a community, but this may not be perceived as such by your stakeholder’s. My vision was behavioral transformation through music. I therefore had to clarify that I would not be able to meet financial or physical needs. This enabled me and my team to stay focused on our vision and allow other organizations to meet these other specific needs.

ttpq43. Plan and evaluate

Have a plan. You may have an amazing vision, but if you cannot fill it in with details on how you will carry out day to day functions, your project may never see the light of day. Such issues like money, volunteers, and management are imperative in sustaining your project.

As you go along, carry out evaluations based on what you had initially set out to do. Evaluation helps you to stay on track and figure out if you are really making the impact that you had envisioned.

In my opinion, a successful project is one in which beneficiaries view themselves as partners in addressing their own community issues. This means that at closing out the project, these individuals take a central place in driving the social change.

ttpq1I would like to hear from you. Have you started a social venture or are you planning to? What are some of the steps you are taking to ensure sustainability?

 

 

 

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Taking the Plunge

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In previous posts, I talk extensively about the importance of collaboration. This year, God has been teaching me how critical it is for believers to align themselves to specific mentors, leaders or organizations, in order to build momentum, leading to kingdom advancement. I believe that mentoring can open boundless doors for your gifts and propel you further along in your destiny. With all the advantages of mentoring, it doesn’t negate the fact that mentoring can be challenging; from finding a suitable mentor to building synergy, and a relationship that works. These can seem daunting for anyone with the desire to be mentored.

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I am learning that mentoring can take various forms, including and not limited to, online mentoring (such as interacting with another individual’s ideas on a blog for example), face to face mentoring and long distance mentoring. Ideally, meeting regularly with a mentor may be the best way to sharpen your gifts, but, it is not always realistic due to time and other constraints.

Along my music journey, I have experienced both realities; having no mentor on one hand and on the other, being mentored well.

In 2012, I produced my debut album. God graciously allowed me to meet a few individuals who believed in my potential. God used these people as a source of encouragement to help me along the arduous, self-doubting moments. The year before, however, was different. I started a project at a government rehabilitation school in Kiambu County. Two to three times a week, I and a few other volunteers would teach music theory, voice, and piano to a group of teenage boys. Despite the lack of know-how in kick-starting and sustaining ventures, we continued to teach, counsel, and inspire these boys until two years later when I closed out the project. This was the greatest achievement in my career. In that moment, I had the privilege of speaking into a generation of men, many of whom did not have parents, role models or familial ties. Of course, there are things I wish I could have done better. In hindsight, the greatest lesson I learned was: two heads are better than one.

Nita Hungu Kilio Cover
Nita Hungu Kilio Cover

So, this year when I decided to scale up the project in another government rehabilitation school, it came as no surprise that the lesson on mentoring and collaboration was key. There are organizations that have a greater reach than I do and are willing to work with me to create change more effectively in my sector. I believe that God is calling us out of a silo mentality where we work in solitude and achieve very little; He is calling us to build together in order to create lasting social change in our communities.

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One organization that I have chosen to collaborate with- Akili Dada, has similar areas of interest with my project: Engaging young creatives through leadership development, the focus being on vulnerable children. My first training session today at Dagoretti Rehabilitation School is one that I have looked forward to, since talks about partnering with Akili Dada began. I am excited to say the least. I am especially interested in finding out how the curriculum I developed will fair in this context. Most importantly though, I am thrilled at the prospect of meeting young ladies who have the potential to be more than what they ever envisioned themselves to be.

So, I urge you, maybe there is a cause that God has been nudging you about. It may be something new, a solution to a pressing need in your community. Find like-minded individuals, take the plunge and see what God will do through you!

 

3 channels for social change

voterapathyI was recently commissioned to write a scholarly paper for an upcoming book on the arts and leadership. My main protagonist happens to be a very vocal and passionate individual who is both loved and hated in equal measure. Nevertheless, he has managed to champion for the rights of the voiceless and continues to do so in unconventional ways that seem to be counter-cultural and abrasive.

On reading about his life and work, it struck me how passive I am in matters Kenya. I am vocal about injustice and even purport to be a catalyst for change, but there are some areas I will not venture into. I seem to be like a thermometer, perfectly reading the temperature of the times we live in but not really engaging as a problem solver.

Being Christian gives me an added advantage- that I can pray for and petition heaven on behalf of my country, but sometimes it seems more of an excuse for not doing anything. Prayer is important, so important that some have said that God can do nothing in this world, but by prayer. But prayer alone cannot change policies, end graft or elect effective leaders. Someone must be willing to pay a price and sometimes the price may even cost one’s life. I have taken a liking to the life and philosophies of the late Tom Mboya- a young revolutionary who died before we could ever see the full impact of his work in Kenya. Such individuals fought for and did everything in their power to make change happen.q4voterapathyStatistics estimate that the youth in Kenya (15-30 years) make up 75% of the population. According to the IEBC, voter registration amongst the youth is alarmingly low despite the fact that 1.9 million Kenyan’s acquired an identity card since 2013.

And I can see why voter apathy is on the rise. Recently, I was against my own liking, roped into a conversation with fairly younger individuals than myself. The tone of the conversation was frustration and anger at the cycle of ineffective leadership. One participant vowed not to vote in the upcoming elections for these reasons. In conclusion, they turned to me and asked if I was going to vote and frankly, I lied through my teeth, citing something about voting being my constitutional right as a Kenyan. In that moment, I realized that I had become a statistic, a number pointing towards a worrying trend. If Kenya is truly 80% Christian, it means that we can rally a critical mass in every sector of society, to bring about the much needed change we desire to see in our country. But where do we start?

  1. Pray

Exiled and captive in a foreign land, news from his hometown threw Nehemiah into a state of despondence; the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates had been burned with fire- those who had survived the exile were in great trouble and disgrace (Nehemiah 1:3). Though discouraged, Nehemiah’s first course of action was to pray. He recognized that if anyone could change anything, it had to be God. Paul in 1st Timothy 2:1-2 exhorts believers to pray for their leaders so as to live peaceful and quiet lives. It is so important to understand that if the political atmosphere is rife with injustice, corruption is inevitable in every other area of society. It would therefore help to identify and commit to pray for the area God has called you to in the different sectors of society. My area is music and education. Recently, certain leaders in the music sector have been accused of high level graft. As a believer, it is my call to pray for my leaders in this area and ask the Lord to expose and change the hearts of those in authority. If I don’t pray, I shouldn’t complain.q3voterapathy

  1. Petition

An interesting aspect to note in the story of Nehemiah is that he was the cupbearer to the King. It was no coincidence that God had placed him in that position in close proximity to the king. Nehemiah could have wasted the opportunity by being afraid. You see, it was not uncommon for cup-bearer’s to be hanged if they displeased the king in any way. Nevertheless, Nehemiah petitioned the king boldly, despite the fear of hanging and he was granted his request. Could it be that God has placed you in a position to influence your leaders and you are afraid to petition them? Maybe you have been praying concerning an issue involving corruption or injustice that you are witnessing in your area of calling. It is time to go to the next level and petition the kings around you, those who can bring the change you want to see. The Constitution of Kenya states that all sovereign power is vested in the people of Kenya. This public participation involves the use of protests, petitions, debating issues- just to name a few. This means that it is your right as a citizen of Kenya to lobby against laws that infringe on you as a believer. These could be laws that propagate unrighteousness in the land. Go ahead and petition.q1voterapathy

  1. Plunge

After petitioning the king, Nehemiah went into Jerusalem with a few men and examined the state of ruin. Nehemiah shared with these men what God had instructed him to do. He called upon them to help him rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and in one voice they responded: Let us start rebuilding (Nehemiah 2:18). After prayer and consultation, plunge into doing what God has called you to do. It could start with making a long line to cast a vote, it could be running for a political position or starting an organization that addresses certain injustices in your area of calling. Whatever it is, put your hands to the work that God has called you to. Be of good courage, and rebuild the ruins of Kenya.q2voterapathy

Can you think of other ways you can be a thermostat in your area of calling?

What’s Your Wound Gift?

WOUND GIFT

Social justice is one of my gifts and I have seen it play out strongly over the years through community projects and startups. I hate to admit it, but I am an idealist by nature. I envision a world with no war, disease or pain. A world where sustainable energy can be harnessed easily and used ethically, where humans and animals alike are well fed and cared for. It is this love for humanity that got me participating in an event hosted by Amani Institute, a social innovation enterprise. One of the representatives gave a compelling talk about vision, passion and life purpose, topics that I have heard before. What struck me the most out of her presentation was a word she used- wound-gift.

Being a word I do not normally use in conversation I looked it up. A wound gift is a term used to refer to the notion that a major opportunity lies within our biggest personal challenge. History can attest to the fact that many prolific innovators at one point of their lives endured such distressing moments. Their choice to move on from these experiences and to use the lessons learned to improve themselves and society, gave birth to new ways of solving problems. Can you think of a personal challenge that has caused you tremendous pain? It could be a drug addiction, a life-threatening disease, a wayward child or even a philandering spouse. Whatever it is, the Bible reminds us that God comforts us, so that we can lend the same comfort to those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4). Your pain can become a source of healing to others.

So, how do you begin using your wound gift?

  1. Acknowledge that a wound occurred

The greatest barrier to the healing process is denial. Denial is one in many forms of defense mechanisms. In order to receive healing, we must be aware that something is amiss. God, in his infinite wisdom created the body and the soul to react negatively to any kind of trauma, through pain. Like physical pain, emotional pain is a signal that healing is needed, so as to return to normal functioning. Because the resulting feelings from any kind of wound may seem negative, individuals tend to push down the discomfort not realizing that buried pain remains alive until we address it. Begin to see pain as a gift; God’s way of showing you that His desire is not for you to remain as you are but to come to the healing grace of His love.

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  1. Acknowledge the power of God to heal

Scripture is not devoid of numerous instances that show the heart of God and His desire to heal His children. When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, He healed the brokenness of those who came to Him. One key to these healings was that the broken asked the Lord to heal them. Despite the fact that the wound may be as a result of our own life choices, we can still ask. Indeed, it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the ill (Mark 2:17). Who better to run to, than the One who can wash you and make you as white as snow? It pleases our Heavenly Father to forgive and do good to His children. In healing, we need to understand that God can choose to use different channels. He can choose to do a supernatural work in your body or mind, or He can choose to use the expertise of doctors and psychologists. As we pray for healing, we need to be open to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit as concerns this.

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  1. Acknowledge your testimony of Grace

The events leading to the conversion of John Newton- once slave trader turned abolitionist, were marred by injustice, crimes against humanity and numerous atrocities. However, he would later be a primary influence in the life of William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament who lobbied against slavery, resulting in the act being outlawed in Great Britain. Newton went on to write the famous hymn Amazing Grace, which has endured through time. Despite his earlier poor life choice, and the tremendous harm he caused to others and himself, God redeemed him. The amazing thing about grace is that you don’t have to live under a blanket of shame or regret, you can boldly proclaim to others the healing and forgiveness you have received from your loving heavenly father. Despite the origin of your wound, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, God is willing and able to turn it around for your good, not only for your own healing, but to countless other individuals longing to hear that there is hope even in the bleakest of situations. Today, God is calling you to surrender your wound into His hands. He desires to heal you and make a beautiful stained glass from your story, for His glory. Maybe it’s time to turn your wound into a platform of help?

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Reflections of a social entrepreneur

Four weeks ago I engaged a group of passionate, self-driven and world-changing young adults in an online course titled: Introduction to moral imagination and challenges in poverty alleviation. This course is being offered by Acumen Fund, an organization that tackles the way poverty is viewed and alleviated. As the course draws to a close, I continue to grapple with some critical personal motivations as to what drives me to social justice. Living a life of immersion for example, means that I need to be aware of the community I am engaged in and listen keenly to their narrative, something that is rarely if ever considered. I have found myself questioning the model of philanthropy I have used in the past and if this model has been effective in helping alleviate the problems of the community I am in or if they are merely hand outs that cause the community to deteriorate and lose their sense of autonomy. For example, I was recently driving in Westlands, Nairobi and saw something that utterly baffled me. I saw a street boy holding a sort of piggy bank while begging. I wondered quite angrily why, if he has the skill to make these boxes, does he need my money. Isn’t it better that he then was empowered to make many more of these little boxes as a source of income?

So who are the poor and do they need my help? In a conflict class I did while in graduate school, I encountered the word happy slave. A happy slave according to my lecturer is an individual who is content with the status quo and may be in a violent situation but views any assistance from outside quarters as confrontational. The question I ask then is this, are the poor that I interact with in my projects happy with their lifestyles? It is hard to understand the beliefs, familial upbringing and core values of a human being, let alone the dynamics that they find themselves in. It is with this that I continue to question what drives me to help the needy around me and if these methods are pushing these precious people further down a rabbit hole.