Small-scale initiatives in Nairobi, Kenya are fostering community development throughout the country. Residents of the Hazina and Kisii neighborhoods of the Mukuru slums in Kenya have created the Haki Community Conversation, a local cooperative designed to help the Mukuru community. The Haki Community Conversation meets regularly to address issues to improve innovation and ingenuity within the community.

Community conversations have been utilized in many different countries and contexts, with the goal always the same: to foster discussion and solutions about the issues that plague the community. In the Mukuru slums of Nairobi, Kenya, the Haki Community Conversation has solved several problems. When it was first created, many people in the community did not have access to toilets. The group used a small grant and member dues to hire community members to build latrines, creating both jobs and sanitation in one single project. The Haki Community Conversation has also lobbied local schools to allow poorer students to pay cheaper rates to attend, and it has also provided pregnant women with free medical care during their pregnancy.

Nairobi is not the only place in Kenya where community conversations are having a positive impact, and simple logistical community problems are not the only issues which these gatherings address. Mary Sadera, a resident of Ol Posimuru, a rural area of Kenya’s Rift Valley, has experienced firsthand how community conversations can impact the social values and customs of a region.

In 2011, Landesa, an NGO that works to secure land rights for the poorest in the world, began a program in Ol Posimuru to raise awareness about the rights afforded to women by the new constitution enacted in 2010. Landesa worked with tribal elders in Ol Posimuru by conducting a series of community conversations about women’s rights. These involved the whole community and took the form of debates, workshops, and discussions.

The community intensely debated the new rights for women, but eventually decided that granting these rights was the right thing to do, especially once it was shown that families where the husband treated his wife as an equal partner functioned far better. According to an article in The Guardian, “Tribal elders told Landesa that they had been working in a vacuum. Community conversations gave them the space and the skills they needed to talk about and reflect on the content of the constitution and on women’s rights.”

The impact of these community based initiatives cannot be ignored. Development is often pictured as big waves of change, but in reality new policy must be implemented at the community level in order to be effective and fit the needs of the area. Community conversations are a simple and cheap way to get local communities actively involved and contributing their own innovation and ingenuity to their development.

Martin Drake

Sources: Take Part, The Guardian
Photo: Concern USA