Forum champions bottom-up approach to empower grassroots enterprises

By Gerard Nyele | Sep 13, 2023
A section of Lightup Impact days annual conference panelists in a panel discussion presentation. [File, Standard] 

A forum held in Nairobi to embrace community-led enterprises and recognise their potential in driving transformative change is seeking to amplify grassroots voices and foster cooperation among social entrepreneurs. 

The conference, organised by Lightup Impact and co-hosted by the East Africa Philanthropy Network, sought a systematic shift to empower grassroots enterprises. 

Under the theme “shift the power,” the forum resolved to embrace “new behaviours and mindsets that challenge the top-down paradigm and tip the balance of power towards local people.” 

“In alignment with our bottom-up approach and this year’s theme ‘shift the power,’ we aim to amplify the voices of grassroots leaders and our shared ambitions while fostering equity and complementarity in cooperation among social enterprises in the region,” said Founder Lightup Impact Dr Valeria Santoro. 

By bringing together like-minded and well-matched local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), all working in different communities and with different specialisations, the forum offers a platform to exchange knowledge and collaborate to develop solutions that go beyond the scope of an individual NGO. 

The two-day forum, attended by representatives of NGOs working in East Africa, also sought to empower the youth to be able to influence policy-making and political participation.

This, the organisers said, is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and spur growth in grassroots economies. 

“The youth is the power hub of the African future, yet, often, youth voices, needs, and innovations are not taken into consideration and have no space to flourish,” said Stella Nderitu, Director of Strategic Initiatives and partnerships at Emerging Leaders Foundation – Africa (ELF-Africa). 

The Lightup Impact community is made up of 100 grassroots community-based organisations (CBOs), while the East African Philanthropy Network has 92 member organisations, which enjoy different benefits within the network, including professional support from other members. 

“Members benefit from peer learning, collaboration, capacity building and opportunity to source funds,” explained Philanthropy Network Communication Lead East Africa Purity Mumo

Collaborative arrangements and partnerships are increasingly becoming the lifeblood of social entrepreneurship.

How, why and when collaboration occurs across the social entrepreneurial ecosystem, Ms Mumo said, is an emergent area of research with the potential to contribute to and develop new theories. Participants emphasised the need for such collaboration among social enterprises as a means to “tap opportunities within each other’s space as well as scaling up with each other’s support.” 

Participants conceded that while there’s a stereotype of the entrepreneur as a lone wolf, single-mindedly pursuing their mission, most successful entrepreneurs understand that strong convictions aren’t mutually exclusive to working with partners.

For social entrepreneurs, they said, partnerships are particularly important because most social issues don’t exist in a vacuum, and therefore can’t be solved without the cooperation of different stakeholders. 

With the growth of social entrepreneurship, there has also been a parallel increase in the level of partnership development to execute visionary ideas. Some call this the collaborative movement. 

Ms Valeria noted that such collaborations are crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

“Many of us now believe that such a movement can change the economic landscape of struggling communities around the world,” she said. 

An example is Together Women Can (TWC) and WA-WA Kenya (Wanawake Wavuvi Kenya), which have joined forces to Empower women financially and save lives through cervical cancer screening.

According to its founder Cavin Odera, WA-WA Kenya seeks to economically support and promote Human rights for women. He noted that only three per cent of eligible Kenyan women get cervical cancer screening every year due to inadequate sexual health education, lack of access to screening facilities, knowledge and financial independence. 

WA-WA has reduced the economic vulnerability of over 600 women through professional skills development.

In partnership with TWC, they are also spearheading an economic empowerment project through chicken farming, which is an incentive for the cervical cancer screening project in Kendu Bay and Mbita, in Homabay County. 

TWC, whose mission is to end cervical cancer in Kenya, has already provided a life-saving intervention to prevent cancer in over 3000 women in Uasin Gishu County through collaboration with local partners.  Besides peer-to-peer collaborations, the forum also noted the important role played by other players within the development ecosystem.

The forum also highlighted the role of the media in creating social impact through long-term partnerships. 

Standard Group Head of Corporate Affairs and Partnerships Charles Kimathi said the media can play a key role in highlighting some of the major challenges facing grassroots organisations. 

“The ultimate evidence of the impact created is to show it, and that’s where we as media come in,” he explained.

Mr Kimathi underscored the Standard Group’s commitment to championing social entrepreneurship and showcasing the transformative work of social innovators across the country and Africa through its digital, TV, radio and print platforms. 

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