SHOFCO set to host first-of-its-kind World Communities Forum

Friday, March 19th, 2021 00:00 |
Members of SHOFCO Sacco during an AGM recently. Photo: Courtesy

Community leaders from around the world will gather for a first-of-its-kind virtual summit on grassroots development when the inaugural World Communities Forum takes place from March 23-24.

The event, hosted by SHOFCO founder and CEO, Kennedy Odede, is aimed at inspiring a localization revolution to decolonize development. It will pair high-profile development experts such as Chelsea Clinton, Darren Walker, Dr. Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili, and Ambassador Samantha Power who will listen and learn about grassroots solutions from community-based leaders.

These local leaders will be sharing insights and solutions from their paradigm-shifting work on the front lines of inequality and social change.

Programmed from the grassroots up, the forum will highlight practitioners who are driving impact at the local level while also facilitating interactive spotlight sessions where community organizations will demonstrate their innovations on the global stage, providing the opportunity for live participation and interaction. 

This will include mapping anonymous community-sourced reports of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in India, showcasing ‘talking walls’ art murals in Africa and India, and a tour of the University of Community Development which provides education to unsupported youth in Pakistan.

“We will hear directly from those on the ground with live participation from communities in Kibera (Kenya), Mumbai (India), Pakistan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the US, and more,” said Kennedy Odede, President and CEO of SHOFCO.

The World Communities Forum will flip the dynamics of established, exclusionary platforms that focus on the voices of the global elite and will instead amplify the voices of proximate leaders who best know what their communities need to thrive.

It also seeks to highlight the outsized potential of community-based solutions to drive COVID-19 recovery and progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

Topics include the empowerment of girls and women, economic recovery, coronavirus vaccine equity, the future of grassroots organizing, and the localization revolution.

SHOFCO CEO Kennedy Odede. Photo: Courtesy

For Odede, the World Communities Forum aims to galvanize urgent action around issues that are close to his heart. Not surprisingly, these are the same causes his organization has been championing since its inception in 2004.

SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) is at the forefront of a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing community advocacy platforms, providing education and leadership opportunities for women and girls, and critical services for marginalized communities living within informal settlements.

Through its SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN), the organization brings together individuals and households through social groups run independently and organizes them to actively seek tangible change in their community and society at large. SUN seeks to build a strong urban network with the vision of giving the urban poor voice and choice in their community development. 

There are over 165,100 SUN beneficiaries in Kenya and that number is rising daily. SUN has created a self-sustaining Group Savings and Loans program for members and their immediate families with over 1,100 active saving groups. More than 80,000 SUN members are under the age of 35. Under the Sustainable Livelihoods Program, SUN is divided into two categories; SHOFCO Women’s Empowerment Project (SWEP) and SUN Youth. 

SWEP provides business training, support, and additional income for women living with HIV in Kibera and Mathare. These beneficiaries are creating handmade goods, from beaded bracelets to colorful yoga bags and more. Through the sale of these unique goods, SWEP members are able to earn an income, but also build a community of support and sisterhood with women going through similar experiences.

SUN Youth, meanwhile, aims to educate and empower young people from the ages of 18-35. It has groups that work towards empowering the youth within the slum, through youth forums, clean-up activities, mentorship, and income-generating activities. It also has clubs that aim to nurture talent in soccer, boxing, karate, theatre, taekwondo, and acrobatics.

“These support groups have been very helpful for many of us as this is how we sustain ourselves. Besides the loans we take to improve our businesses, there is also a benevolent fund of Ksh50,000 ($456) for members who are bereaved and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. These groups helped us get free food, soap, masks, sanitizers, and a stipend courtesy of SHOFCO,” said Rose Naliaka, a member of SWEP, who lives in Gatwekera, Kibera.

Odede and his expanding team are addressing the top six SDGs (no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, and clean water and sanitation) by giving job opportunities to slum dwellers, providing tuition-free education to disadvantaged girls, and assuring students receive free meals in their schools.

On the issue of good health and well-being, for example, SHOFCO has created seven medical clinics while 29 water kiosks (24 in Kibera and five in Mathare slums) address the water problem.

A perpetual solutionist, Odede has also been vocal on the issue of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. “There’s a dangerous competition going on among developed countries about who will own the vaccine. I see this as a failure of leadership,” he told Politico last June.

The forum will also shine a light on community voices and solutions that hold the key to global progress but are often overlooked. It will also mark the launch of the Global Alliance for Communities, a coalition of local leaders, stretching across the globe, which aims to bring a community-based perspective to the global development agenda.

“The Global Alliance for Communities is a vehicle to advance what local leaders from around the world need to get us through the COVID-19 pandemic and back on track towards the 2030 SDGs,” states Odede. “This starts with equitable access to vaccines for COVID-19, immediate support for marginalized communities, and significant investment in locally-led projects that offer the most viable and lasting solutions to rebuild communities and economies.”

For further information on The World Communities Forum please see the website here.

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