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Celebrate 20 years of KCDF investing in communities 

“Development is about people not things because people cannot be developed. They can only develop themselves and they will act for themselves and in their own interest once convinced obstacles can be overcome by their own effort.” Julius Nyerere

When six individuals met and collectively started dreaming new perspectives to community development in Kenya, they may not have imagined where the power of their vision would be today. More than 20 years on, Kenya’s first community foundation, and one of the oldest in Sub-Saharan, now partners with hundreds of community organizations across the country.  Since it was founded, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, or now known as KCDF, has been a trailblazer by setting new standards in philanthropy, capacity building and grantmaking, all charting a new way for home grown philanthropy in the continent.

With initial support from the Ford Foundation, who wanted to explore how experience of community philanthropy in the US could be transferred to other parts of the world, a project was created. A scoping study highlighted the disconnect between the substantial funding going to NGOS in many countries in Africa and the minimal resources reaching community based organi0zations. The study’s conclusion was that the community level transformation was not taking place.

Through the commitment of a handful of aspiring Kenyans, and an initiative dedicated to growing philanthropy, the building blocks for a long-term vision based on community grantmaking was established. With seed funding invested by the Ford and Aga Khan Foundation, the initial project led to an independent Kenyan organization being legally registered in 1997. The patient capital of the initial philanthropic funds allowed the group to reflect on what would ultimately work within the Kenyan context and be able to be locally sustained.

In those early years, Monica Mutuku, the first Director of KCDF was determined to do things differently. The team had to come up with procedure manuals to guide the capacity building effort to enable them to reach their goal of community centered and community led development. A participatory process was a necessary first step, and the team spent many hours developing guidelines for effective engagement with communities, CBOs and NGOs working in communities. The skills needed were listening, hours of personal engagement and unending patience to build trust. Their early experiences informed them that the problems communities faced were not insurmountable and the devil lay in the small things – group governance skills, basic financial management practices, planning and forecasting, unlocking linkages to government programmes and the ability to undertake outreach activities. The focus was on the implementation process and only on the project completion. 

In the first year of operations, KCDF gave out grants to 15 partner organizations. The goals of these groups varied from education for needy children, advocacy on land rights, small scale business development to water and sanitation, early childhood development. What was common was all the ideas had been self-identified as the most pressing challenges facing the communities. Today, with a diversified and strong endowment, its footprint has grown to support hundreds of small organizations across Kenya.

To mark their 20 anniversary, in partnership with the Africa Philanthropy Network and GFCF, KCDF will host a two-day conference to deliberate and foster conversations on people-led durable approaches to development.

Click here for more information on KCDF, and the 20 anniversary conference, including how to register.

Interested press? Download the Media Advisory here.  

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