If you have not already done so, please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my blog series.

Part 3:  CHANGE, Kenya

In 1998, CHANGE, Kenya was established as a Nongovernmental Organization.  The acronym CHANGE stands for Center for Health, Advocacy, Gender, and Education Initiative.

AOMA- Department of Institutional Effectiveness
https://aoma.edu/about-aoma/institutional-effectiveness/

The Mission of CHANGE is to support health awareness, education, transformational leadership, and sustainability.  Through the implementation of various programs and initiatives, CHANGE seeks to identify and advance the strengths and skills of individuals, particularly women and girls, so that they may contribute to the financial, social, and political empowerment of their communities.  

CHANGE’s vision is to see a world where women have equal access to education, employment, healthcare, and leadership opportunities.

The target population was women and girls located in Thika district, where my parents grew up.  CHANGE’s goal was to implement programs and provide services to a population in an area we knew well, and based on the success of these programs, eventually replicate them in other parts of the country.

CHANGE created a safe space for local citizens where they could freely express key concerns within their communities.  Citizen input was critical, since this ensured that all programs were designed to specifically meet their needs.  The key concerns that were brought to our attention were:

  • harmful cultural practices (early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation);

  • little to no access to basic education, particularly for women and girls;

  • very limited/no access to basic healthcare and critical healthcare classes;

  • high mortality/infant mortality rates, due to the lack of access to pre-and-post natal care;

  • women’s lack of participation in politics and decision-making within and outside their homes; and

  • lack of self-sufficiency and sustainable development in this area.

Using this information, CHANGE was able to plan programs that were geared towards addressing these issues not just with women and girls, but with the community as a whole.  I served as the Program Coordinator for CHANGE, and learned how rewarding and difficult Nonprofit work can be.

Establishing this Nonprofit was no easy feat.  The founding members had to go through the careful process of first determining whether there was a need to start a Nonprofit in this area, or whether it would make more sense to collaborate/volunteer with existing organizations that had an interest in, and the capability to provide this level of programming and services to the community.  Our first task was to research organizations in the area and find out what they were doing for the community.  Our search did not yield any results for Nonprofits or other organizations that were specifically geared towards the mission, vision, goals, and programs that CHANGE was interested in providing to the community.

In order to help us carry out our mission, we had to consider who we wanted to recruit to be on our Board of Directors, as well as recruiting experienced staff and volunteers.  We were keen to have a diverse board, in terms of work experience, as well as age.  Each Board Member was expected to bring with them their invaluable experience and diverse perspective on the work we wanted to carry out.  Our Board worked tirelessly with us to establish the organization’s by-laws, as well as navigate the process of officially registering the organization as an exempt organization.

Some of the challenges that we faced included difficulties with finding convenient times to meet in-person.  Board Members were scattered in different parts of Nairobi and Thika.  All the members were married with families, so as is expected, their priorities were their full-time jobs and families.  Weekends were the only times that were available for meetings, which was challenging, since this was the only time for families to spend sufficient time together.

While CHANGE was successful in raising start-up funds for our programs through donations, fundraising activities, collaborations with like-minded organizations, and grant funding, maintaining a steady source of funding has always been a significant challenge.  Start-up costs initially came out of the founding members’ pockets, which became a challenge with increasing needs in the community.

Once programs were implemented, a significant issue we faced was with the lack of proper and efficient record-keeping.  Some of our staff members who worked in the field were inconsistent with tracking their field activities and reports.  This made drafting semi-annual and annual progress reports, and proposals extremely challenging, due to the lack of consistent information.

Another challenge that we initially faced had to do with citizen input.  Local citizens had always been taught to respect authority and not question the decision-making of leaders in their community, lest they be viewed as troublemakers.  As a result, most individuals were very reluctant to speak up and express their concerns, or provide valuable input into policy-making.  Since its inception, CHANGE has carried out successful programming such as:

Health

  • Programs geared towards the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STDs;

  • Classes geared towards proper hygiene;

  • Maternal and child care classes;

  • Health and wellness classes geared towards nutrition and physical fitness; and

  • Working with the government and local citizens to obtain medical supplies to prevent infectious diseases and death from preventable illnesses.

Advocacy

  • Elimination of harmful cultural practices such as early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM);

  • Education attainment particularly for girls and women; and

  • Promotion of human rights and the eradication of domestic/gender-based violence.

Sustainability

  • Collaborating with other organizations and Foundations to assist local citizens with starting and sustaining their own businesses.

Leadership

  • Collaborating with local citizens to encourage women to assume leadership roles within their communities; and

  • Working with community leaders to ensure the involvement of and contribution from women and girls in policy-making within the community.

CHANGE is currently undergoing significant changes to its program focus areas to better meet the needs of the citizens being served. Through my work with CHANGE, I have learned what it takes to create and manage a successful nonprofit, and utilize these lessons in my work with Rukmini Foundation.  In the next and final part of my blog series, I talk about what I have learned from my experiences, and how they have shaped my personal and professional interests.  Thank you for reading along!

Linda Githiora-Olweny
Member of the Board of Directors, Rukmini Foundation
Grants and Research Manager

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