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Grassroots organizations at the forefront of change

By Ella Polak Feb. 15, 2023

Born in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, Kennedy Odede never received formal primary school education and spent most of his childhood on the streets. Despite his circumstances, Odede attended Wesleyan University and, in 2004, was inspired to create a nonprofit that could help others experiencing urban poverty. By 2021, that nonprofit, called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), had supported 2.4 million people across 17 slums in Kenya.

Daniel Choi Art

In a country plagued by police brutality, political corruption and crime, many Kenyans struggle to escape poverty, especially the four million inhabitants of its slums. SHOFCO aims to provide critical social services such as schools and health clinics, water, sanitary public bathrooms, loans and youth training for competitive jobs. By filling in the gaps left by the government, SHOFCO has a crucial effect on the people it works with.

Daniel Choi Art

One vital aspect of the nonprofit’s success has been commitment to its Kenyan roots and direct access. Rather than being a large corporation with faceless donors and foreign volunteers, SHOFCO was established directly from the Kibera slum, with a founder who has an acute understanding of how urban poverty restricts social mobility. By gaining people’s trust in its services and cooperating with local leaders, the nonprofit has made an impact that even larger organizations have struggled to achieve.

“Regional nonprofits have an advantage over larger nonprofits because they have a connection to the community and can focus on local issues, directing funds based on the community’s unique needs. Still, larger nonprofits may have more resources, broader reach, diverse sources of funding and professional staff, making them effective as well,” Sophomore Aileen Bump said.

In The Guardian, Odede describes how he observed an outside aid group build a public bathroom in Kibera, only for a neighbor to claim the structure for himself once the organization left—thus creating no tangible impact. SHOFCO seeks to avoid similar situations by continually working with local communities. The nonprofit also empowers self-action communities rather than accepting support from foreign groups rooted in historical Western imperialism; many non-governmental organizations that work in the Global South are funded by Western governments that directly oversee their policies.

Other grassroots organizations around the world have had comparable success, including Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), a Bangladeshi nonprofit that supports small South Asian farmers and advocates for minorities. BRAC shares loans, provides education and organizes workshops for poor neighborhoods, along with aiding Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Just like SHOFCO, the organization’s success stems from its personal engagement and localized support.

“As a project coordinator for Key Club who works with many local nonprofits in the Bay Area, I feel that their services are more directly felt within communities and thus more impactful. Large organizations such as the American Red Cross that have regional chapters instead of a single national program are also helpful,” Junior Mia Nguyen said.

With billions of dollars in funding, the impact of large international organizations cannot be understated. However, SHOFCO’s locally receptive model is slowly gaining ground in developing countries. When communities struggle to sustain themselves, leaders like Odede are increasingly stepping up to make change, one small neighborhood at a time.


About the Contributors

Ella Polak

staff writer

Ella Polak is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. She enjoys reading, volunteering and gardening in her free time.

Daniel Choi


Daniel Choi is a sophomore at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys to watch shows, do art and play video games.

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