True Social Innovation

Anastasia, Amy and myself on the roof of the Children's Rescue Center

It seems that we are living in a time where people are trying to implement social innovation and social entrepreneurship by going into the developing  countries and teaching communities about the latest poverty alleviating technologies and innovations.  Every organization is figuring out a way to design for humanitarian means which will also make them a profit.  New programs are popping up to fund Western designers and western social entrepreneurs to come up with new ways to assist people in the developing world overcome poverty. But I think that with all this buzz major components are being left out; like the communities themselves.

Here is a story that demonstrates social innovation ideas that we are missing when we don’t bring communities to the table in their own development.

Today Anastasia Juma, the director of our partner project OLPS gave us a tour of the Children’s Rescue Center that she is building.  This center is being built as a halfway house for orphans where they will live while OLPS finds permanent homes for them.  It will house 20 children at a time.  Through a series of fundraisers: auctions, cook offs, dances, she has raised 1.2 million KSH ($12,000) from members in her community to build the facility. The land to build the Rescue Center on was donated by the community and in return she provided them with a small mill that that they use to make Ugali flour, creating a business and a service that is benefiting everyone.

The community mill

This was incredible to see and to learn about. But what really impressed me is her plan to sustain the Rescue Center:

First off is her plan to feed the children:

All the vegetables for the orphans will be supplied from the OLPS garden.   Their milk will come from goats that were recently donated from another organization. She also had purchased chickens and these chickens will provide eggs and meat. Lastly she has gotten a pond donated from the Department of Fisheries to start farming fish.

But this was just the beginning of her plan.

Not only will the goats be used to provide milk but also their manure will be used to fertilize the vegetable garden.  They will be fed left over corn husks, rinds and old vegetables from the garden.

The hens will be fed corn from the garden and their coops will be set up so that their droppings will be caught and dropped into the fish pond to feed the fish.

These fish will be sold to the community and the funds will be used to fund the flower garden.

These flowers will be sold and all the proceeds will be used to provide money to pay the children’s school fees.

The surplus vegetables, eggs, fish and milk will be sold to the community for a lower price than the local market which will make nutrition available to a community that normally could not afford it.

All of these proceeds will be used to maintain the Rescue Center and the vegetable garden; making both projects truly sustainable with the ability to expand with no outside help.

During our field visits, I meet people from the USA that are here to teach Africans how to create organic farms or make green buildings.   I get the impression that they feel that because they are living in a more developed county that they know best.  I can safely say that as a foreigner I could have never made these connections in the community or set up a sustainability plan that not only would directly serve all the children in the Rescue Center but also indirectly improve the quality of life of the whole community.

Every day, all over the developing world, ideas like the one described above are being put into play.  In the communities that we work with social innovation and social entrepreneurship are not just  tag words or a social approach to capitalism but it is the way you survive. I am sad to think that with all the innovation westerners are coming up with to pull “underdeveloped” people out of poverty they are missing the point.  People are not poor because they aren’t innovators they are poor because they don’t have access to resources.  Even though we might have access to resources and all the latest technologies, I think we could learn a thing or two from them.

Anastasia in the greenhouse

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1 Response to “True Social Innovation”


  1. 1 Luke Barbara August 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Great post. In the same vein, I highly recommend reading The Selfish Altruist: http://www.amazon.com/Selfish-Altruist-Relief-Work-Famine/dp/1853837768


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