Grassroots movement in Kenyan slums wins world’s biggest humanitarian prize

Shofco Girls Education Kibera
Children play at the SHOFCO-run Kibera School for Girls. People living in slums like Kibera experience extreme poverty, violence, lack of opportunity and deep gender inequality - but education can help to lift them out of the cycle (SHOFCO)

Girls' education, Right to education

SHOFCO, which has transformed the lives of over 220,000 people through education and other programmes, will get $2m of funding from the Hilton Foundation.

In the midst of poverty and inequality, a Kenyan teenager called Kennedy Odede saw hope and determination.

He realised the people of Kibera – one of the largest slums in Africa – wanted to better themselves and their community.

So began the story of SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), which Odede founded in 2004. Three years later, at the age of just 23, he met visiting American student Jessica Posner – now his wife.

Together they formulated the community-driven, grassroots model that SHOFCO has used to transform the lives of more than 220,000 people in six Kenyan slums.

Their programmes include education and the empowerment of girls and women. Believing that educating girls was key to ending the cycle of poverty and inequality, SHOFCO started the Kibera School for Girls in 2009 – the first free primary school there. 

Shofco Kennedy And Jessica

Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner are working to bring hope to urban communities (SHOFCO)

SHOFCO’s remarkable success was recognised when it was named as the recipient of the world’s largest humanitarian award. The 2018 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize comes with $2 million of funding from the Hilton Foundation, making it the world’s largest annual award to a nonprofit organisation. 

“We are thrilled and honoured to receive the 2018 Hilton Humanitarian Prize,” said Odede. “We will use this tremendous opportunity to start an endowment to ensure the long-term financial health and sustainable growth of our work. 

“This will allow SHOFCO to remain driven by community needs and leadership, not donor demands, now and in the future. 

“The endowment will strengthen our work in partnership with community leaders and help us expand our investments to transform urban slums.”

SHOFCO’s work, which also includes health care, economic empowerment and sustainable delivery of clean water, is always demand-driven and community-led. This means SHOFCO creates sustainable, systemic change within urban slums.

Shofco Work 1

Education and other services are helping to transform the lives of children living in urban slums (SHOFCO)

The tuition-free “leadership academies”, located in Kibera and Mathare in Nairobi, have more than 450 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. 

Every student receives health care, meals, uniforms and school supplies.

Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, said: “I applaud SHOFCO’s work to transform the lives of urban slum dwellers, galvanise grassroots change and reduce social and educational barriers for women and girls.

“Their efforts are an example for organisations who seek to create paths out of poverty and inspire hope. That is why I am a proud member of SHOFCO.”

Hilton Foundation President and CEO Peter Laugharn said: “The jury’s selection of SHOFCO to receive the 2018 Hilton Humanitarian Prize really speaks to the power of local actors and signals a nod to the next generation of humanitarian and development leaders.

Shofco 3

Over 450 students are receiving a free high-quality education from pre-kindergarten through the 8th grade (SHOFCO)

“SHOFCO is a remarkable example of citizen-led change, created by people living in very challenging conditions. As Africa and the world urbanise and more informal settlements are created, SHOFCO provides an inspiring example of local creativity and solutions.”

SHOFCO has worked with Theirworld to help girls in Kenya. In 2016 we launched the first of our Code Clubs – safe spaces where girls can learn about technology – at Kibera School for Girls, which is run by SHOFCO.

The organisation was also involved in the #UpForSchool campaign run by our A World in School movement. Hundreds of people in Kibera marched, sang and chanted for the right of every child to get an education at an event in 2014.

More than 8000 signatures were also collected by SHOFCO for the #UpForSchool petition, which gathered over 10 million names and was handed in at the United Nations in 2015.

Theirworld’s work on early childhood development is supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

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