This is the third in our series about our civil society programs and community philanthropy, which means working with communities to develop local solutions to local problems. This story comes from the Yetu Initiative, a Global Development Alliance with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kenya; Yetu means “ours” in Kiswahili. This post looks at how Yetu strengthens capacity, the second pillar of community philanthropy (assets, capacity, and trust). See the first in the series here.

In East Africa when illness strikes a parent, vulnerable children risk falling into poverty. In Kisumu, in western Kenya, seventeen-year-old Stacey Akoth found herself the family breadwinner after her mother suffered a stroke that left her bedridden. Stacey suddenly had an overwhelming responsibility: to care for her younger brothers and sisters. “Our mother’s illness has really affected us,” Stacey says. “To take care of my young siblings, I had to drop out of school and take up odd jobs around town.”

For children like Stacey, the Omega Foundation has worked for 15 years to bolster vulnerable families with innovative health and livelihood solutions so they can have better lives. In the early 2000s, the foundation supported local self-help groups and community health workers at a time when their work for HIV/AIDS treatment carried stigma.

Omega’s New Capacity for Engaging the Community

Recently, Omega realized that to make its programs sustainable, it needed new capacity for funding to draw on local resources. Reaching out for local support and managing the campaign required human resources and skills quite different from the grant applications they were accustomed to. So Omega Foundation applied for and received support from the Yetu Initiative. Yetu improves the environment for community philanthropy and strengthens civil society organizations. Yetu provided Omega with capacity-building training to run a fundraising campaign in three western counties including Kisumu.

“I couldn’t afford to go to culinary school but with this campaign, I know that I can achieve my goal,” said Stacey Akoth.

Working with Yetu, the Omega Foundation staff engaged its community in a new way. Omega’s Uplift-a-Child-Headed Home campaign launched in November 2016 with two aims: highlight the struggle of these families and their needs, and raise funds for meeting those needs. For example, Stacey received Omega training so that she might have job skills and realize her dream of becoming a chef. Now she would tell her story to show how Omega had helped.

Turning to the Local Base for Support

To make it a successful grassroots campaign in the three counties of Kisumu, Homa-Bay and Siaya, Omega turned to its local base. Omega staff held a one-day workshop in Kisumu with self-help groups it has funded for years. Local civil society leader Merceline Opondo, a community health worker, has known Omega since 2002. At that time, with a local group named Kowa, she received Omega training for supporting families affected by HIV/AIDs. Opondo walked door to door providing them with counseling. Now with other Kowa members, she rallied the public and business community to donate to Omega. Together the six community organizations raised KSh 100,000 (US$1,000) for Omega’s campaign.

The campaign included radio spots with comments from Stacey and others. They talked about how Omega’s programs made a big improvement in their lives.

“I love cooking and my dream has always been to become a chef,” Stacey told the radio audience in Kisumu. “I couldn’t afford to go to culinary school but with this campaign, I know that I can achieve my goal.” In sharing her dream, Stacey made Kenyans aware of the power of community philanthropy. And Omega Foundation’s experience, raising KSh 3,929,254 (US$39,293) from local sources, suggests another avenue for growing the capacity of community philanthropy.