Marcus Garvey once said, ‘The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.’ The Emerging Societies – Emerging Philanthropies International Forum in St Petersburg on 1-2 July 2013 was a life-changing experience for me. It was refreshing to meet people from various parts of the world with a genuine passion to serve humanity in unique and innovative ways. Everyone I had the privilege to talk to left me impressed by his or her sincerity and I was awed with fresh ideas that will impact on our work in Kenya.
To contextualize the issue, I come from a country with a population of approximately 40 million. Ten per cent of the population (approximately 4 million) live in Nairobi, the capital city, and the largest and fastest-growing city in the country. Approximately 2.65 million people (representing 65 per cent of Nairobi’s population) live in slums and informal settlements, which collectively occupy approximately 1.62 per cent of the city’s land area. Most of these are marginalized parcels of land – near contaminated dumping sites, flood plains, steep slopes, riparian reserves; under power lines, on railway reserves, over oil and sewer pipes. On these parcels of land, families usually have to live in 10 foot x 10 foot spaces without access to running water, electricity and toilets or access to basic services.
Despite the great challenges faced by the majority of Nairobi’s population, statistics reveal that 60 per cent of Kenya’s GDP of US$37.23 billion (2012) was generated in Nairobi.
At the forum, I really begun to wonder what impact philanthropy would have in the lives of the millions of slumdwellers living in Nairobi. If the politicians, large corporations and high net worth individuals that hold the title deeds to slum land would release it for public benefit, how would that impact the city’s and the country’s GDP? Would tenure regularization provoke government investment in providing water, toilets and basic infrastructure in the slums? Would the slumdwellers themselves begin to engage in activities that serve the best interests of the entire community? Would Kenyan society see that we are all connected? Would that be the beginning of the end of poverty and all her associated ills? Would they realize that everyone’s destiny is intertwined? Would the city be a better, safer and more prosperous place?
The order of the above events may vary but I began to believe that the outcome would generally be the same. If everyone, whether in emerging or established societies, began to serve one another, then every village, every community, every city in the world would be a much better place to live.
I then began to really wonder about the ethos, the humility, the humanity and the empathy that drove Olga Alexeeva to devote her entire life to a cause that would make the world a better and fairer place to live. I wondered about each of the 41 worthy nominees that were presented to the judges and felt intimidated by the excellent work being done by each of the other six candidates that were shortlisted. Each of whom is far more worthy of the Olga Alexeeva Prize.
The reality hit me: the first Olga Alexeeva Prize was actually a set-up! A call to step up and be true to the overwhelming values that Olga represented. A bequeathing of a mantle to fill the shoes, extend and expand the work of a lady I never knew, but have come to love, honour, deeply respect and appreciate.
Is she watching from eternity beyond? Is she working with her maker to bring divine intervention each time the earthly challenges seem insurmountable? Is she looking at the pain of the millions of slumdwellers and praying that I make a difference in their lives? Will she ask me how I served others? Will my work extend beyond the borders of my local situation like hers did? Will she be waiting for me at the proverbial pearly gates with a scorecard on my performance? Will she say to her maker ‘let him in, for he has been a good and faithful servant?’ Oh my!
Kingsley Kariuki Mucheke is finance and development consultant, Akiba Mashinani Trust, Kenya, and joint winner, with Jane Weru, of the first Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize.