By Felix Omondi and Philip Ocheche
For the past seven years, Shofco Urban Network (SUN) has been a huge trailblazer changing the landscape of many informal settlements across Kenya.
The grassroots movement, which is a conglomerate of several groups within the slums, was launched in August 2014 to create cohesion in informal settlements.
“SUN came around as a platform to bring people together to share what it is that was troubling and bringing divisions in their communities and ways in which they can tackle these issues,” Isaac Gomba, SUN Manager, said.
“Having been born and raised in Kibera, SHOFCO CEO Dr Kennedy Odede, saw the need to create a platform that could help tackle the issues that most often sparked conflict in his home community of Kibera. Therefore, he came up with SUN which uses grassroots leadership to bring different community leaders together to speak about these issues and find ways to solve them,” Gomba added.
From its humble beginnings in 2014 in Kibera, the group has slowly grown from having 200 groups and 4000 principle members signed up by early 2015 to having more than 8000 registered community groups and 150,000 principled members while boasting over 700,000 beneficiaries. Gomba credits this success to the team’s huge mobilization strategy.
“After we launched in Kibera, members from other centers started requesting us to also launch SUN at their centers. We first took our time to understand how the movement would work best before slowly launching it in the other areas,” the SUN Manager stated.
In 2017, SUN was finally launched in Mathare while in 2018, they opened their doors to the groups and the community of Mukuru Slums. From these baby steps, the movement has now grown to 24 informal settlements in eight counties.
“Apart from our Nairobi offices, we also have branches in Mombasa, Kilifi, Kisumu, Kakamega, Nakuru, Vihiga and Siaya counties. Our current wider reach is testament that SUN is now no longer a Shining Hope for Communities driven program but a grassroots community movement working with local and government leaders to help solve community problems,“ Gomba said.
The movement is built on several pillars some of which include: social welfare where they offer life insurance for a demise of a family member or dependents of their principle members; bursaries and high school scholarships to the kids of a member; and entrepreneurship and business skills trainings to help boost the financial literacy skills of their members to help them attain economic stability.
Their community Sacco program with the vision of transforming urban poverty to an urban promise has been a great tool in changing the saving habits and culture of many households in the informal settlements.
The Sacco offers members a chance to save individually or as a group. This has given them hope that through their small savings they can increase their household income. The Sacco, with the vision of bring their members dreams and visions three times closer, offers members loans of three times their savings with an interest rate of one per cent per month.
Their advocacy programs, which were started as a platform to inspire the community leaders to stand up and speak out about issues affecting their communities, have also not been left behind. In 2019, after the death of Kibera Member of Parliament Ken Okoth, the advocacy group organized a community baraza in Kibera that brought all the aspirants vying to fill up the MP seat for a debate. This was instrumental in having a peaceful by-election in the area and signaled a change in how the Kibera community engages with politics.
“Our dream is to have SUN in each and every community across the 47 counties. We want to create community leaders who are passionate about their own communities and can sit down to address issues that are affecting them,” Gomba concluded.