Kibera Public Space Project: sustainable housing through 'productive public space'

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Kibera Public Space Project: sustainable housing through 'productive public space'

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Kibera Public Space Project (KPSP) is a network of public spaces that sustainably transforms communities in Africa’s largest slum. Residents have taught us that housing alone isn’t enough. To TRULY improve quality of life projects must equally plan for the environmental, social & economic sustainability of a community. This understanding led to the concept of Productive Public Space-waste spaces like dumps rebuilt through a community-driven process to mitigate environmental hazards, provide amenities, & develop enterprises that fund site maintenance. Our 1st site includes a garden, public hall, playground & water. The sales of fertilizer made from community compost & baskets woven from a native plant provide ongoing financial support. Our 2nd site also has showers, toilets & a school.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The lack of basic services in Kibera is staggering. Nearly one million people live without formal trash collection, there is one toilet for every 250 people and scarce access to safe water & electricity, creating serious safety issues at night. In addition, the average wage is $1USD per day, and unemployment is over 50%. Without sanitation, safety & income, a healthy quality of life is difficult to maintain. KPSP address all of these issues through a multi-sectoral approach to upgrading and, as a result, benefits men, women, children & the environment. Economically, KPSP creates income-generating opportunities where people once saw only waste. Socially, KPSP creates needed political capital among residents. Environmentally, KPSP turns a space that pollutes into one that remediates.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We create sustainable urban communities by building everything EXCEPT housing. Kibera houses the poorest of the poor in Kenya. Rents, though less than 10 US dollars a month, are still a heavy financial burden for most families. Past housing projects by the UN & others have failed because the increased rents needed to make the project ‘pencil’ are unaffordable for most families. Thus, many families continue to live in their existing shelter even when offered improved housing. We look to achieve the same goal - improved quality of life - using fewer resources & more community ownership. By creating spaces of shared amenities, enterprise & leisure, we make existing housing more livable & durable and build healthy communities in a manner that is resident-preferred, faster & more financially feasible. Our process is also unique in the following ways: 1. We think in terms of systems. NGOs like CharityWater have a single mandate of water, but that narrow reach is not enough. Organizations charged with sustainable slum improvement must ensure physical efforts are integrated with economic efforts and local initiatives with regional ones. 2. Where design groups like Design for Africa end their role by handing over a plan, we go further by co-designing with residents, securing resources & co-managing implementation. 3. KDI links economic activity to place-based improvements. Many organizations build toilets or teach women business skills; we simultaneously improve a place, teach skills & create physical spaces to employ them.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We measure success along three axes. With each site launched we aim to create a point of (A)environmental, (B)social & (C)economic reclamation and track metrics in each of these areas. To date KPSP has two sites. (A) Environmentally, these sites have replaced five public toilets that formerly drained directly into the river; repurposed organic waste on site into an income-generating product; created new options for disposing of inorganic waste; & introduced new environmentally-preferred building materials. We have provided thousands of people with access to clean water and hundreds of people with safe & affordable sanitation. (B) Socially, through the capacity-building component of our work, the sites have created two new,legally-registered community-based organizations that now command the attention of local government officials. Resident leaders are called upon to advise other NGOs & government entities operating in the area. The sites also provide hundreds of children with a safe place to play by hosting the only play structure in Kibera; thousands of people with a proper place to organize & educate; & thousands of people with a new circulation route that cuts up to 30 minutes off of daily travel. (C)Economically, the sites have provided 250 people with short-term employment & new-skills training and 50 people with long-term income-generating activities.The project has also spawned 10 new micro-enterprises. Organizationally, we measure success by our ability to build the PPS network, engage new partners, & successfully replicate our process in other environme
About You
Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI)
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI)

Organization Phone


Organization Address

108 w 2nd street #301, Los Angeles CA 90012

Organization Country

, NA

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Chelina Odbert entered Harvard University Graduate School of Design determined to find a way to use design to alleviate poverty. In 2006 she & five classmates launched Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) as a way to address poor living conditions that other design firms were reluctant or ill-equipped to confront. They started with the assumption that slums are not going away, but a better standard of living for slum residents was easily achievable, and the skills & insights of their professions could help. They raised funds to explore this idea in Kibera, Nairobi. In design workshops held with residents they identified priority needs and began to understand why past upgrading attempts had failed. They also saw residents’ capacity to solve their own problems when given access to resources. They returned from that trip committed to do something sustainable and spent the next year designing KDI & KPSP to avoid the shortcomings of the projects they saw in Kibera. They then exhausted every resource to design & launch a pilot project. This process included writing a business plan, participating in a social enterprise incubator, & taking an MIT engineering course. The specific idea of a Productive Public Space came in their thesis preparation as they looked for a way to bring the amenities the community wanted most while avoiding the chronic problem of lack of maintenance funds. The communities they were working with embraced the idea and have since built two projects in Kibera with a third on the way. They are now adapting the process for Haiti & the US.

Social Impact
How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Working in Kibera is not easy. Our greatest challenges are high levels of corruption, irregular land tenure issues & the time investment required for capacity-building relative to that of construction. We attack corruption by adopting a STRICT no-tolerance policy & now have a reputation of transparency. To overcome difficulties in acquiring land in a place where all land belongs to the government and all structures to middle-class Kenyans, we only use land that is considered ‘waste space’ & can be purchased or given to the community through a very technical MOU process involving local leaders. To make capacity-building more effective & efficient, we invest a great deal of our time & resources into building a community training curriculum that is as rigorous as our design process.

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

In the next three years we expect to evolve in three key areas:
1. Within Kibera: We will continue to grow the Public Space Network & bring in new Kenyan partners (private sector & public) so we can reach more communities, more efficiently.
2. Outside Kibera: We will prove adaptability of our model by using it to build sustainable, self-reliant communities in other parts of the world. We are beginning this expansion now with projects in Haiti & the US.
3. Organizationally: We will implement systems to quantifiably and rigorously evaluate the successes & failures of our individual project components in order to refine the model. We also expect to utilize our design & development expertise to assist other NGOs that lack those professional skills/resources.

For each selection, please explain the financial and non-financial support from each

Currently 5% of KDI's revenue comes from contributions from friends & families. Foundations account for 71% of KDI's revenue. We receive 22% of our budget through fee-for-service design work for other NGOs. The remaining 2% of our funding comes from speaking honorariums and/or competition prize money.
KDI receives significant non-financial support in the form of volunteer work. All of our engineering is done pro-bono by Buro Happold Engineering Firm; we have five design professionals who volunteer their time to oversee specific programs like the women's weaving business; & we have 3-5 student volunteers working in our office on project design & development at any given time.

How do you plan to grow and/or diversify your base of support in the next three years?

KDI has identified growing & diversifying its base of support as one of its top priorities, recognizing that increasing our financial and professional resources is critical to achieving our long-term objectives. Our plan includes the following:
A. Expanding our network of friends & family. In conjunction with this we are establishing a donor database & creating vehicles for regular communication with (prospective) donors.
B. Launching professional fundraising & grant-writing campaigns in the first quarter of 2011.
C. Soliciting additional fees-for-service/consulting contracts similar to the current project in Haiti, by responding to RFPs & entering competitions.
D. Participating in academic forums & presentations, in order to participate in academic discourse regarding improving quality of life in the world’s poorest communities.
E. Developing a marketing/media strategy to create greater public access & exposure. The strategy includes starting a new website in the first quarter of 2011; writing for design & development publications; & accepting speaking engagements.
F. Filling current staffing needs including a full-time Business Manager, a part-time Fundraising Coordinator & a part-time Communications manager.
G. Collaborating with other foundations & NGOs when appropriate, recognizing that synergy will allow KDI’s resources to be stretched further.

Please select your areas of intervention in the home improvement market

Financing, Design, Technology, Technical assistance, Sanitation, Water, Infrastructure, Environment, Income generation, Urban development, Citizen/community participation.

Is your innovation addressing barriers in the home improvement/progressive housing market? If so, please describe in detail your mechanisms of intervention


Are you currently collaborating with private companies, or have you partnered with private companies in the past? With which companies?

We currently collaborate with Buro Happold engineering firm.

Please describe in detail the nature of the partnership(s)

Buro Happold provides pro-bono engineering services for all of our projects. This partnership was established through the Environmental Engineering Department.

Select the unit(s) with which the partnership was formed

Other (please specify).