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Our global pandemic requires local solutions

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Race to the Starting Line

From January through to March each year, predictions for the new year shower websites and social media portals. Trends to watch for in the development sector are no different. In 2021 we’ve been urged to keep an eye on shifts to decolonize humanitarian aid. However, this is not a new idea. It continues to be discussed and, more importantly, practised. “The shift from power to proximity and poverty” represents this smouldering trend. Then came a great wind in the form of the global pandemic.

The Covid-19 situation

We live in extraordinary times where humanity is battling a global pandemic that has led to economic and social disruption. The Covid-19 virus is causing a dramatic loss of human life and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems, technology, and the world of work.

By 2045, the world’s urban population is projected to reach six billion. Emerging economies, like Kenya, will have to endure this rapid growth but without the capacity to handle these challenges. As a result, urban poverty will explode. According to United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), 29% of the global population live in slums. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number jumps to an astounding 54%, and in Kenya, nearly half, 46.5%, of all citizens live within informal settlements.

Covid-19 has decimated these micro-economies, and people in the slums are more concerned with hunger than the virus. Most jobs are tied to the local economy, and the average income is less than $2.00 per day. Those fortunate to have had jobs outside these settlements, primarily service industry workers, have had their hours cut or lost their jobs entirely. The economic impact on these communities is devastating.

We have observed that traditional efforts aimed at development have fallen short as the architects and funding of solutions have not emanated from the people or locations under threat. These challenges are mainly systematic and require both new thought and new approaches.

There is increasing recognition of the need for a shift in how development is done worldwide. Substantial transformational progress must promote peer-driven change over traditional ‘top-down’ approaches that treat marginalized communities as beneficiaries rather than change agents.

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Private donors are also bringing this vision to life. The Rockefeller Foundation is one such organization committed to solving complex social problems at the grassroots level. In October 2020, the Foundation announced that it would dedicate US$ one billion over three years to help end the Covid-19 pandemic and drive a more inclusive, green recovery worldwide. One hundred days after this landmark announcement, the Foundation committed US$ 35 million to support Covid-19 response efforts in Africa and to address critical underlying challenges that perpetuate inequality. To achieve these ambitious goals, the Foundation must continue to work with several key partners in areas that have historically fueled inequalities and poor health.

The Rockefeller Foundation invests in solutions that create local jobs and drive economic inclusion and organizations with a proven methodology to bring new opportunities in education, healthcare, and small businesses through platforms that reward community-led development.

Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO) is one such partner organization, a poster child for community-led solution implementation. SHOFCO is a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums, reaching 2.4 million Kenyans across 17 informal settlements.

To boost the Covid-19 response in Africa, SHOFCO is working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health (MOH) to expand Covid-19 testing and tracing efforts to include Nairobi’s most marginalized communities. Their approach aims to certify community-based health care clinics as official Covid 19 vaccine distribution points. Such a solution is expected to bring healthcare, social stability, and economic healing to those communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

A Catalyst for Change

There is a need to recognize the hundreds of local solution providers who truly understand marginalized communities’ challenges. That is why The Rockefeller Foundation and partners supported the inaugural World Communities Forum, which reflects on the growing ‘localization revolution’ within the worldwide development community, a first-of-its-kind.

The annual event, conceived and hosted by SHOFCO, aims to flip the dynamics of conventional high-level forums that focus on the global elite rather than amplify local leaders’ voices on the front lines of vulnerable communities worldwide.

By collaborating with local solution providers such as members of the Global Alliance for Communities, governments can benefit by achieving goals, like herd immunity and economic stability, faster than going at it alone. Like the Kenyan Ministry of Health and SHOFCO collaboration, supporting partnerships also assures that large, private donors, like The Rockefeller Foundation, lead the way in building capacity and catalyzing sustainable investments that aid governments and communities along their journey to self-reliance.

William Asiko is the Rockefeller Foundation Managing Director, Africa Regional Office and Kennedy Odede is the Shofco Founder and CEO

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