Ndoto Zetu: the big idea behind small donations

01 Oct 2021 . 846 Views

What would it take to bring your dream to life?

Perhaps, an idea to address a pressing community-wide problem on one hand and a funder to bridge the financial gap on the other. At the heart and soul of the Safaricom Foundation’s Ndoto Zetu initiative, launched in 2019, is a commitment to “work together to make your community dreams come true.”

Big ideas. Small donations. High impact.

This premise, however, did not begin in 2019 but shaped gradually from lessons gained over 18 years ago.

For the team at Safaricom Foundation, which was started two years after the company it depends on was founded, the biggest lesson was in the sheer numbers of requests for assistance. Each month, there were at least 100 such requests that unfortunately could not all be funded or supported.

Some of these dreams were straightforward—clean and enough water for schools, equipped health facilities closer to the community, a well-stocked library or economic activities for the youth—but needed financial support to make them a reality.

“We thought, how do we ensure that every Kenyan in the 47 counties has an opportunity to tell us their dream for their community?” says Henry Kilonzo, Senior Manager Foundations Programmes. The team, in the same vein, also picked up another crucial lesson: it was not all about money.

“It’s about how noble the idea is, how passionate you are to work with and through communities to enable them to be better than when you found them,” says Henry.

The result of this introspection over the years was the birth of Ndoto Zetu in 2019, a programme through which the Safaricom Foundation finances low-cost, low input but high impact community projects proposed by ordinary Kenyans.

In the wake of Ndoto Zetu’s inception, the Safaricom Foundation’s team was rethinking its overall strategy and its focus areas.

“This change was necessitated by a realization after analysis and reflection on the work done over the years. The eight areas we focused on were so broad that the Foundation was stretching itself thin,” Henry added.

The new strategy therefore, informed by research carried out in collaboration with Safaricom’s Brand team, switched to focus on three areas: health, education, and economic empowerment.

Beyond these three areas, two cross-cutting issues were identified: water and technology.

Henry explains in the world of giving, one of the biggest trends has “been a movement towards shared value rather than philanthropy, which is also known as ‘feel-good giving’”.

In shared value, companies approach social issues with a business strategy and use their resources, innovations, and convening power to create new solutions.

Beneficiaries of shared value projects can create wealth while the business can simultaneously operate profitably.

Shared value,an academic concept created by two Harvard professors, Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer, but has been applied by global companies and multinationals such Nestle and Coca-Cola.

The main criticism of philanthropy, though, is that it is not only sustainable but may not have local ownership especially of such funded projects.

“You sink a borehole [for the community]. If it breaks, they will call you and tell you ‘Safaricom, your borehole is not working.’ So, there is no ownership.”

Still, there is a place for straight-up philanthropy, and while the world is shifting away from ‘feel-good giving’ to shared value, the team at Safaricom Foundation realized that they cannot make a complete switch to shared value yet.

The simple reason is that not all Kenyans can fit in one area so the team has been working to have a balance between shared value projects, social enterprises and philanthropy.

The main factor is the nature of the communities the Foundation is serving. For philanthropy, he says, “their needs are not as many, but they are quick.”

For instance, a community where their main water pipeline is broken and that is repaired and a tank installed at a total cost of KES100,000, with the end result being a community where children get water in their school, women no longer have to walk long distances to fetch water and everyone is happy when the quick and easy solution is provided.

With Ndoto Zetu, the community members propose projects that would help them accomplish their dreams. This means the community understands their issues and have a clear understanding of the solution needed to solve their problem.

“You have to do this with them, not for them. And when they do it, and they are able to achieve what they wanted, they’ll say, we did it together.”

Ndoto Zetu’s second phase in 2020 came in at the throes of the  Covid-19 pandemic which saw a surge in economic empowerment community projects to cushion communities from the economic uncertainties.

This has been the case with projects like the one in Kamulu run by a group of 24 people with disabilities supported by the Kenya Paraplegic Organisation, which has ventured into making briquettes from ash, sawdust, tree barks and soil.

The group had secured an order to supply briquettes to a supermarket but was unable to fulfill the order because it could not raise the money to buy the briquette-making machine. The Kenya Paraplegic Organisation helped them put together a proposal to the Safaricom Foundation and received KES500,000 to buy the machine and another for welding.

Others are like Njeri Kahiu, who runs a school for autistic children in Ongata Rongai, and needed to buy therapy equipment worth KES100,000.

Then there is Zamaleo Cultural Group based in Huruma in Nairobi, which was hit hard by the effects of the Covid-19 and needed to expand their performance portfolio by adding more costumes to meet client specifications. They also needed to buy more props but the pandemic had meant they couldn’t perform and could not raise the money. Ndoto Zetu stepped in with KES50,000 to help them buy sisal skirts, a traditional drum, monkey skin, a djembe drum, marimba, kishutu lesos and other assorted props.

In total, there were 330 such projects worth KES70 million in Phase 2 that translated to 1.1 million beneficiaries, a number that would typically not be reached by a bigger project in which that amount is spent.

Funding communities is one part of the process. A monitoring and evaluation team follows through with the projects and it is the true test of the usefulness of a project. Monitoring and evaluation of the Phase two projects is ongoing.

Henry says from what they knew about feel-good giving, the Foundation was initially worried that economic empowerment projects like carwashes, briquette making and similar ideas to enable the youth get into self-employment would not last long.

Much to their surprise, Henry adds, most of them are still going strong.

Ndoto Zetu Phase 3 has received more than 4,000 proposals, which are being evaluated under the following criteria: their relevance to the overall strategy, benefit to a community, innovation, no affiliation to a religious organization and no political orientation.

Henry concludes: “To some it may be little money but when you interact with the community, and you see the value attached to the Safaricom’s Foundation support, you are motivated to do more.”



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