Inspiring change in Kiberans one event at a time
Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager
The 2007 Nairobi World Social Forum (WSF) was a controversial event because while it brought social activists together to discuss urban poverty, impoverished Kenyans were effectively excluded from the function due to the high cost of attending.
As a result of the controversy, many WSF participants decided to see for themselves how things worked in the slums. This resulted in a flurry of tours around Kibera, Nairobi's biggest informal settlement, effectively laying the groundwork for the creation of a slum tourism infrastructure in the area.
It is commonly agreed that the WSF was a turning point for Kibera, because it heralded an era in which people strove to weave a different narrative of the slum, one that went beyond the old refrain of poverty and desperation but attempted to tell another, more multifaceted story of life therein.
The merits and problematics of slum tourism have been discussed at length in a book co-edited by Fabian Frenzel, lecturer at the University of Leicester, entitled Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics. Enough said that the creation of this trend in the context of Kibera resulted in a gradual change not only in the way that outsiders see slums but also in the way Kiberans see themselves and wish to present themselves to the world.
In August 2009, the first TEDx event was held in Nairobi, followed a week later by the first TEDx Kibera event. TEDx Kibera is the brainchild of Suraj Sadhakar a fellow at the Acumen Fund and Kevin Otieno, a Kibera resident.
"I met Suraj while working at Hot Sun Foundation and he introduced me to the concept of TED," says Otieno. "I was interested in trying to develop different perceptions of the way we Kiberans see ourselves and thought an event like this would help the community to think outside of the box. The idea was to encourage people to stop feeling sorry for themselves and gain motivation through inspirational stories of men and women who have made it despite growing up in the slum."
Otieno has gone on to organize many TEDx Kibera events that have been attended and moderated by a wide array of inspirational people. The concept has proved so popular that other talks have been staged in Mathare and Korogocho, both high-profile Nairobi settlements. According to Otieno, one of the results of these events has been a change in mind-set for the attendees: "I would say we have successfully managed to curtail people's expectations that they should receive a sitting allowance whenever they attend an event of this kind. This mentality is a by-product of the way NGOs work, and it has been very hard to convince people to be active agents of change and not passive recipients of humanitarian wisdom."
With themes like innovation, entrepreneurship, self-discovery, and rethink, it is apparent that the events are intended to target local people and attempt to harness their social capital without necessarily doing it for the international glory of putting on a TEDx event.
"TEDx Kibera has a long way to go, and I would like to see it scaled-up so we can achieve greater impact," concludes Otieno. "So far, we have secured some funding from the Gates Foundation that goes towards the rental of the hall we use, but we have still to find organizations willing to provide funding for the technical side of things. We would love to be able to train attendees in public speaking and help them to spread the word in order to create other events of this kind, but do not currently have the capacity to carry out this kind of training."
Photo credit: Gates Foundation