The Mayor of Kibera: A Shining Hope

From a young age, he was responsible for the well-being of his family, but Kennedy Odede never felt control of anything, especially his own health. He was growing up in Kibera, Nairobi, immersed in the devastating and ever-changing realities of Africa’s largest urban slum.

Odede was one of the few from his community to graduate from a four-year university. He then set out to transform the cycle of poverty he grew up in by striving to make health care accessible to all urban slum residents. His motto was: “I was born poor, raised poor, and will return to help those who are poor like me to change our society.”

Today, Odede speaks six languages and is a senior fellow with Humanity in Action and a senior at Wesleyan University. He is a 2010 Echoing Green Fellow, won the 2010 Dell Social Innovation Competition, wrote an Op-Ed that appeared in the New York Times, and was recently honored by President Bill Clinton.

Odede has been able to serve more 40,000 people across Kibera through a low-cost and community-driven model of health care delivery that allows grassroots community leaders to retain power within their local healthcare organizations. His organization, Shining Hope for Communties (SHOFCO), was a recent winner of the Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric Foundation Health on the Ground: Uncovering Innovations That Save Lives competition.

SHOFCO has opened a school for girls, a community health clinic, built eco-friendly toilets, and currently operates a community center that offers extensive community programming such as health care and education outreach, gardens, gender violence support groups, microenterprise for HIV positive women, literacy/computer training, and hundreds of jobs.

Patient feedback has been central to the of SHOFCO’s PatientPower model. “In extremely low-resource areas, the educational, class, and racial divides between medical professionals and their patients run deep—such that despite millions of dollars of foreign-aid, health outcomes remain dismal, and patients experience constant frustration and loss of dignity,” Odede said.

Beyond supporting patient dignity, responding to feedback has helped sustain demand because it can lead to the implementation of new clinic programs that better serve specific sectors of the community. “Focus groups and community advisory boards have provided honest descriptions of the state of health care in Kibera, seen through the eyes of those who use the centers,” Odede said.

SHOFCO provides community services in high demand, such as clean water, biolatrines, and vertical gardens. The organization has had impact impact in the health care and beyond: Kibera’s cholera outbreaks and other public health issues have come down to a manageable level, and family planning usage has increased by 20%.

Odede started out with 20 extra cents in 2005 that he put towards taking the first steps to create SHOFCO. Today, the organization works on HIV/AIDS education, female empowerment, microfinance, sanitation, and health.

And Odede is respected in the community and beyond as a leader and a changemaker, which is why they call him the “mayor of Kibera.”

Video: The Kibera School for Girls - I Can! featuring Kennedy Odede.