Organizing Map Kibera

by: January 19th, 2011 comments: 1

Back in October 2009, Erica and myself explicitly intended to NOT start a new organization in Kibera, a place awash with hundreds of NGOs and CBOs. Now in January 2011, we are two of four (growing to seven) Trustees on the Board of the Map Kibera Trust, a Kenyan based organization with staff and over 30 participants in three programs and a national outlook. How the heck did we get here? I wanted to explore a bit of the history, social process and discussion that went into the formation of the Trust, and in a later post outside this series, will give a full introduction to how the Trust is structured and operates.

Early during the first phase, it was clear sustainability would be an issue. Without some organization or network to keep the torch moving, the work Map Kibera started in October-December 2009 would stop there. The participants, while enthusiastic and skilled, are mostly young and had their own individual priorities. They didn’t have experience forming organizations, and as soon will be clear, neither did Erica or myself! We had maybe hoped that the “community” would pick this up, but with such a new kind of activity, there wasn’t a natural home that immediately had capacity.

Our first response was in December 2009 to present the issue to the mappers, and ask them to discuss and self-organize in our absence over January. They needed to take the lead, to take ownership, and we would help support them in the process. On our return in February, we found things hadn’t gone smoothly. The group didn’t have a single strong direction or vision, egos were colliding to take control, and our Kenyan partners at SODNET had been called in to mediate. We, being the initial leaders, needed to provide direction in the process, clearly present the vision, and at the same time balance that with empowering the group to lead. And, we were already getting ready to start training in online media and video in Kibera to expand on the toolset available, as well as work on deeper issue-based mapping. A tricky, tricky, ongoing process.

We started in discussion with the mappers, the intention being to support them to create whatever vehicle they needed to move forward. There was consensus around starting formal registration, and building an organization that had national scope and could do a variety of things, including crucially provide some level of support for the individuals. After examining a number of different types of organizations, like NGO, community based organization, and society, the group settled on a Trust as best fitting our needs and being relatively easy to set up. With that mandate, we formed a working group of Philip (from SODNET), Douglas (mapper), Jane (Map Kibera administrator) and myself, and began to meet to work on the nitty gritty. That meant hiring a lawyer, drafting a Trust Deed, selecting and inviting Trustees according to criteria, deciding a structure and draft a Constitution, terms of reference for Trustees and Advisor, HR policy, partnership policy, financial policy. We soon decided to invite ongoing friends of Map Kibera Kepha Ngito and Douglas Ragan to join the Board of Trustees.

On top of all that, we had the activities of Phase 2 moving full steam, and the full expansion of the project into Voice of Kibera and Kibera News Network. We were all busy, and communication broke down on the progress of the Trust. Though by August 2010 we had made decent progress, the participants were beginning to grumble – especially since by now there were three young programs and things seemed to be changing at a fast pace. We hastily organized a meeting of all the participants, had excellent team-building activities led by Rosie from Community Cleaning Services, and introduced the Organizational Overview we had created for the Trust. But when it came to the detailed discussion of the Trust, it was perhaps too little too late for clarity.

The Mappers felt the remit of the Trust had widened to include the new programs (Voice of Kibera and KNN) without their consent, while the other groups felt the Trust was a structure set in stone, making them beholden somehow to the Mappers. There was a feeling that the Trust was more driven by myself and Erica then the guys from Kibera. We felt we had carefully communicated the purpose of the Trust, and especially, that we wanted to co-develop the organization of the Trust with everyone, but on reflection we’ve seen how our words and actions were in conflict. We know well now that ambiguity and open-endedness is not something easy to communicate to the youth of Kenya. When dealing with “figures of authority”, and lacking experience, the usual expectation is to be told what to do, very clearly. The conflicting needs of our organizational development required input and ownership from everyone, but also very strong guidance to produce what’s expected. We had also been in something of a conundrum, since we had created a partnership with Unicef for Phase 2 and made plans to move ahead on activities, sending a message that we were still in charge. Yet we wanted the group to start taking more ownership of the project.

We pushed forward, and there was no better time for the focus groups and reflections with Sammy Misoyuki, which helped air all this out in a productive way. Kepha stepped up to really make clear what this Trust thing was all about. While those discussions didn’t quash all uncertainties that the Trust was indeed working in their interest, it set things in the right direction for a productive, bottom-up structuring. By bottom-up, we emphasized that the Trust is set up to support the programs, and rather than being explicitly told what to do, the programs themselves are responsible for devising their own vision and mission, activities, budgets, membership policies, structures, and in iteration with the coordinators, come to a workable structure.  Perhaps this is more difficult in the short term, but in the long term a more resilient and empowered organization. Even now, we are looking at how to structure a program of training in the skills needed for planning an organization, and required deliverables, to get into a solid place; while the guys are probably wondering again if the Trust has packed its bags along with Erica and I.

Meanwhile, we finally got agreement that all three programs were going to have equal say and participation in a coordinating body for the Trust, but could still manage themselves independently in terms of their internal structure or operations. There was a lot of back and forth on this but I think we finally got everyone to see how working together could be more beneficial than creating three separate organizations. This was eye-opening for us since we easily saw the links between video, Voice of Kibera, and mapping – we tend to live in an online interconnected virtual world. On the ground in Kibera, the tendency is more to mark off your territory and huddle together with those you trust.

If the this wasn’t enough, we also experienced outrageous problems with our “lawyer” – who ran off with our registration fees without even filing properly – and had to make a very late switch for someone more reliable. Caveat emptor.

Yes, it’s been a lot of back and forth, between the initiators and the participants. Perhaps that’s the only way to proceed, with everyone’s inexperience in this (especially our own), and the terrifically difficult balance this kind of development engagement and relationship requires. I sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience and energy to this process … it hasn’t been easy.

The usual procedure is for some kind of founders to form the organization, set up the mission and operations of the group, and then do activities. We did it backwards. We started with a big splash of an activity, and then founded an organization of necessity, and that led to confusion. I still think this is a wise direction to proceed, to build off of real work before formalizing and ask trainees to envision what they want and need. We’ve actually gone a lot further in our thinking now, by thinking along with  IDS and Sammy Muyoki about how participatory development can work with new technology in communities. However, we’ve learned from this experience and from the reflection in the study that serious thought and preparation must be given to what happens after we (GroundTruth) are invited to initiate an activity, and leave, as our role is of necessity not long term. In Mathare, the Map Kibera Trust and Ground Truth have clearly engaged a network of groups prior to start, and explicitly told them to think of how they can maintain the activities after March, with the ongoing linkage but not ownership by us. We are eager to see how this open-ended future forms!

This post is part of a series exploring the ideas and issues that have emerged in our research project with Institute of Development Studies, supported by DFID. All posts from the Map Kibera team, the researchers from IDS, our trainers and colleagues are collected here. As always, we are eager to discuss this work, so we hope to hear your comments.

§ One Response to “Organizing Map Kibera”

  • Paul C says:

    “The usual procedure is for some kind of founders to form the organization, set up the mission and operations of the group, and then do activities.”

    This isn’t quite true. If you look at the history of the (western) charity/philanthropy sector, almost all international NGOs were formed after their activities had already started. Forming an NGO becomes critical to sustaining those activities in the same way as forming a private company becomes critical; organisations have strengths that individuals do not.

    It’s only in the last 20 years that “forming an NGO” has become the starting point, with people in developing countries believing that setting up an NGO is the only way to achieve community goals. This trend has really undermined civil society, rather than strengthening it, since the activities should come first and forming an NGO may not even be necessary.

    In the case of Map Kibera, you’ve done things in exactly the right sequence, and the project will be stronger as a result.

    (I wrote about this in

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