Platform Helps Kenya Build Vital Infrastructure

Posted on September 27, 2015

 By Peter Brach, Trustee, Brach Family Charitable Foundation

In November 2014, a new kind of partnership was launched in Kenya: the SDG Philanthropy Platform (then known as the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy). Some individuals present at the launch event called it “uplifting and historic,” words not often used for philanthropy sector gatherings. To my knowledge, it was the first time civil society, philanthropy, members of the public sector, and officials from multiple United Nations agencies came together around a common agenda. It was also the first time that a number of philanthropic and civil society actors set foot in the large United Nations complex in Nairobi. More than 80 people attended. Many shared their vision for how to harness the power of philanthropy to complement the efforts of others and to support the country’s aspirations under “Kenya Vision 2030.” This development plan is in alignment with the soon approaching Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When a government owns its development plan rather than it being imposed from outside, there is a much better chance of adoption and progress. To assist countries with this, the United Nations established the UNDAF (Development Assistance Framework), the fourth generation of which Kenya is now implementing and which was signed at the highest level with President Kenyatta at the State House. Today, more than 20 UN in-country agencies use this framework to “Deliver as One.”

The SDG Philanthropy Platform team is confident that this agreement will aid in creating an enabling and better-synchronized environment for our work. It is encouraging that, for the first time, we have been able to include the participation of philanthropic organizations at high-level meetings. During the latest National Steering Committee meeting in July 2015 at the State House, the president publicly acknowledged the role of philanthropy as an important partner with other stakeholders in implementing Kenya Vision 2030. This recognition is well-deserved, but long in coming.

Arif Neky is the National Coordinator for the Platform in Kenya and is based in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator, the highest-ranking UN official in a country. Since November 2014, with assistance from Mr. Neky and other partners, the Platform has brought together approximately 40 foundations and trusts. They call themselves the Kenyan Philanthropy Forum, working as “one voice” for philanthropy. The Platform carefully limited its role to facilitation and co-convening jointly with leading players in the local philanthropy sector. Mr. Neky helped lay the groundwork by meeting often with individuals and foundations, addressing their needs, and further connecting them with other organizations, such as the East Africa Association of Grantmakers (EAAG), representatives of the business sector, bilateral or multilateral donor agencies, and government partners. In just a few months, this made it easier to foster collaborations between new partners.

Kenya’s government went through a reform a couple of years ago in which counties were established and much authority was devolved from a centralized power structure to County Governors. Today there are 47 governments across Kenya. Each has formulated its own Integrated Development Plan with support from UNDP Kenya and other development partners. These districts are engaging stakeholders, including the private sector, and working with the Platform. Philanthropy is being actively connected to strong local project opportunities, such as vocational training and financial literacy for youth employment and entrepreneurship. We believe that these granular, county-level opportunities for cross-sector collaboration provide a more effective approach for tackling difficult development challenges. This is an exciting example of how philanthropy and government can work and learn together to achieve sustainable impact, and we need to find more opportunities like this.

Recently-proposed draft legislative amendments to an existing law would have transformed NGOs into “Public Benefit Organizations,” imposed an external funding cap of 15 percent of NGOs’ annual budgets, and rolled back tax incentives that promote charitable giving. According to the Platform and civil society leaders, passage of these amendments would likely wipe out a significant majority of these organizations and adversely affect most in-country foundations and trusts, as well. Arif Neky and UN Resident Coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas, building on the Platform and its growing network, advocated at a UNDAF Steering Committee meeting — chaired by President Kenyatta himself — to effect the current Act immediately without the amendments that would adversely affect philanthropy. This was done after many discussions with numerous actors in civil society and leaders of foundations and trusts. These stakeholders made presentations during public hearings of the UNDAF Task Force to collectively ensure that a more positive policy stayed in place. A final report has been presented to government and a response is eagerly awaited.

Another important element in ensuring success of the Platform in Kenya is the partnership of New York City-based Foundation Center, a global partner of the Platform that works closely with Mr. Neky. Foundation Center seeks to increase its own understanding of the philanthropic context in Kenya as it relates to data and information needs and also to contribute to creating a shared understanding of how data can support philanthropic effectiveness in addressing global development challenges. Three primary objectives include: 1) Encouraging data sharing and collection efforts that begin to build an understanding of the global philanthropic landscape; 2) Inspiring joint projects to illuminate philanthropy’s role in global development; and 3) Aiding in philanthropic decision making.

Mr. Neky recruited 35 UN volunteers online to assist in developing summary profiles of approximately 200 foundations and trusts and to facilitate initial interviews between Foundation Center staff and Kenya’s leading foundations. This will feed directly into the launch of the Platform’s global website,, on September 24, 2015, on the eve of the UN General Assembly Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The website and the data it houses will be freely accessible from anywhere in the world. This site will include information on philanthropic financial flows and how they relate to individual development goals at the global, regional, and national levels in Kenya and the Platform’s other pilot countries: Ghana, Indonesia, and Colombia. Massive efforts are underway to provide an unprecedented amount of relevant, trusted, and timely data to all philanthropic institutions and multiple stakeholders seeking to forge collaborations. There is a strong focus on providing funders with the data required to make evidence-based granting decisions in-country with greater confidence and impact. But it requires on-the-ground teams like Mr. Neky from the UN and philanthropy colleagues to raise awareness of the importance of such data.

It is anticipated that activity maps by geographical and thematic areas on will greatly ease the way for funders seeking to forge collaborations. A visualization of past and current funding activities will make it possible to track trends from the efforts under the Millennium Development Goals to anticipated progress under the SDGs. It is expected that with the Platform’s intermediation with the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, philanthropic data will eventually — after mutual agreements with the philanthropy stakeholders — be recorded by the Bureau and incorporated into national statistics. A joint working team between the Kenya Philanthropy Forum and the Bureau has been proposed by the Platform and is likely to be accepted by the relevant Director General. This team’s data will enable funders to identify productive entry points, avoid duplication of effort, and participate more effectively in development pipelines and multi-stakeholder collaborations.

The Platform is also part of the Kenya Data Forum, an unprecedented initiative to aggregate communities of practice to gather and analyze data from government, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector under the African Data Consensus principles, which was presented during the National Data Conference. The Platform’s efforts to gather philanthropic data will be linked to the broader effort at national aggregation across sectors.

The Platform uses connections made (to be augmented eventually by data) to advance promising development opportunities. As a case in point, in a joint collaboration initiated by the Platform between UNDP Kenya and UNICEF Kenya, a $16 million matching philanthropic fund has been launched in education, employment, and entrepreneurship for Kenya’s youth. Relevant local philanthropic organizations will be able to leverage this money on a one-to-one matching basis. The Platform team is intent on innovating such approaches to identify and/or create opportunities like this and broadcast them widely across the philanthropic sector. According to Heather Grady, vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, another core partner in the Platform, “We must work together to bring the very best innovations and programs to the surface and ensure they are brought to scale.”

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