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Building resilience through local ownership


NCDO, a local community-based organisation

KCDF, Kenyan Community Development Foundation

Local government officials


Pastoralist community members

The local school as a model farm


Innovative capacity-building funding model: the KCDF approach builds financial as well as technical capacity, helping the CBO become financially independent

Beneficiaries contribute to fund maintenance of the irrigation project

The local CBO is supported to hold local government accountable, ensuring transparent use of local authorities’ financial and technical resources


The Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) is a Kenyan organisation that prioritises capacity building so that local organisations can better advance the needs of the communities in which they work. The KCDF implements a funding model that seeks to ensure that a significant element of the funding of any project is raised by the community. Whilst KCDF’s focus is on development, their model can be potentially valuable for localised humanitarian action. Their work addresses the concerns brought on by climate change, including disaster preparedness and response. The KCDF approach is rooted in indigenous knowledges and prioritises institutional capacity building through community resource mobilisation, which fosters a sense of ownership and accountability while simultaneously allowing members to build strong partnerships and influence policy.

The KCDF philosophy affirms that communities have the resources and in particular the knowledge and skills required to address their challenges. As Melvin Chibole, Communication Manager at KCDF, explained: “What was lacking was just organisations being organised. Being organised in such a way that they can have one voice and look at what development challenges they had and to cooperatively come together and contribute towards solving that problem. So, in that sense KCDF was built, first of all to empower these organisations […] for them to have the confidence that they can solve their own issues as well as build capacity.” Whilst KCDF does also give financial support, most of their funds are devoted to capacity building.  “What we mean by capacity is not just training, it's much, much more than that. It's for them to learn by doing; it's for them to fail sometimes - but what we call responsible failure not negligence; it's coaching and mentorship; it's exposure visits and again it's the patience to walk with them even as they continue growing in their skill sets and their capacity to implement projects.”

The KCDF approach is a challenge to traditional funding that doesn’t seek to address the financial dependence of local organisations on donors that are typically international. As Melvin from KCDF says: “There was no effort from donors to transfer skill sets, from the basic skills of book keeping all the way to proposal development.” The traditional model also gave communities no stake in the process – if a project failed, if was donor money that was lost. “We tested the idea to measure two things; to measure the trust that organisations have within the communities that they come from and also their confidence in raising resources.” This approach was labelled ‘Pamoja [together] for change’ and was designed in a manner that ensured community members had “skin in the game”, as Melvin says, meaning not just abstract ownership, but a real vested interest.  While the funding they provide is minimal (often $5,000 - $6,000 initially), a key element of what KDCF does is to support organisations to fundraise themselves and build financial independence. Grants are given on the basis that KCDF will match funding raised locally for the agenda of the community-based organisation. Community-based groups used “different local actions - some of them did fundraisers, some of them did walks, some of them sold their cattle - whatever money they raised they brought to KCDF and we matched it. Some used religion - through churches or through mosques - to raise the resources. When they came back with that money, we considered that a success because a seed had been planted.” Even in the very poorest communities the model was deemed successful. In Ukambani – the home of the Kamba people east Nairobi - for example, people were required to contribute KSh. 1 (about 1 US cent) a day in church. For every shilling they had, they were given one shilling and the fund was built around that principle.

KCDF measures success both in terms of concrete outputs, such as the building of a classroom, but also in terms of organisational capacity: “We are not only looking at resource mobilization,” says Melvin, “but also governance, programme development, monitoring and evaluation and most importantly, we are looking at the communication and branding aspect of it because that is the only way you can clearly show that this is what we are doing and you can create a value proposition for that organisation. […] it doesn't matter whatever little funding they get because we have created an agent pool where they can get resources from anywhere else outside KCDF.” In this sense, the model prioritizes sustainability as a principle goal, and provides communities with an incentive to invest in their local organisations. The size of projects evolve from small scale ones, and gradually increases as both the trust of the community and the capacity to raise funds increases. In some cases, communities are now running projects worth almost $250 thousand USD, demonstrating the extent of their development.

International organisations will not work in the way KCDF does: the projects are too small and too many (KCDF has funded over 2,000 CBOs over its 20-year history); the risks are too high and the logistics too challenging for an organisation based overseas. The KCDF model is intrinsically a localised model and a long-term model – the capacity building at the centre of their approach needs more than the 2 years that most international donors require. 

The action

When humanitarian preparedness and response are localised, different agendas emerge from those driven by external funding. When communities are invited to invest their resources – time and money – in a project, as in the KCDF approach, they will understand risk in a very different way from humanitarians with a narrow focus on emergencies with potential mass casualties. This can be seen in the types of project that KCDF has engaged with, ranging from climate change adaptation to the prevention of children being engaged in sex tourism. 

For the pastoralist community in the Kimana area of Loitoktok, Kenya – an ethnically mixed but majority Masai community living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro - climate change is no longer an abstract notion, but a lived reality. Climate change has adversely affected their cattle, crops, access to food and fuel, their families’ health and future prospects and, for many, challenges their survival. Pastoralists still hold onto cattle for their cultural value, since it has been a way of life for thousands of years, but one now threatened by the impact of climatic change, and many are too attached to the animals to think beyond that tradition. Perennial, unpredictable and severe droughts have made pastoralists in the area travel further afield for pasture and in the process seen their herds decimated. "Pastoralists traditionally have moved around in search of pasture and water for their livestock. But with the increasing frequency and severity of the droughts, pastoralists’ land can no longer sustain them. Many have now embraced urban lifestyles," says Leonard Nemushai, the Project Coordinator for Noomaiyanat Community Development Organization (NCDO), a local Non-Governmental Organization that focuses on food security and environmental awareness in Kimana. Some have confronted the challenge to the traditional way of life by engaging in agriculture to complement their pastoral way of life, and have been supported to do so by NCDO. The intervention to increase their engagement with crop farming is a humanitarian one in that it prepares them for future climate change and drought, increasing resilience and decreasing vulnerability. It is also however a developmental intervention, improving family livelihood by complementing their cattle.

In December 2012 NCDO received a grant from Wilde Ganzen, a Dutch NGO, and KCDF to implement a community project that focused on food security and environmental conservation. The project targeted the agro-pastoralist population in the community with the aim of transitioning them from traditional furrow irrigation, where water flows down channels following the natural slope of the land, to drip irrigation. Noomaiyanat started by implementing a piped water project aimed at providing access to clean and safe water for household use for 580 pastoral homesteads through the laying of a 2.7 km water pipeline drawing water from a local pipeline. “Most of the community members in Kimana are migratory and travel frequently looking mainly for water and pasture hence the need to provide water for them to be sedentary and adopt farming.” adds Leonard. The community was able to improve their farming system as they moved to the more efficient drip irrigation and their harvests are now being sold as far as Arusha in Tanzania as well as neighbouring counties such as Machakos, Makueni and Mombasa. NCDO were able to implement their project thanks to the innovative funding model of KCDF, with each farmer who received water contributing for maintenance of the pipeline with income realised from their crop production. Project beneficiaries formed committees in their respective areas for ease of sharing water, timetabling days and times on which water would be distributed to the different locations and farms as a way to reduce conflict and used the same structure to collect money to maintain the project.

As the project was rolled out at the community level, NCDO initiated a parallel pilot project in a local secondary school to act as a demonstration plot on the effectiveness of drip irrigation in comparison with furrow irrigation. “We planted maize on a one acre piece of land to supplement our school feeding programme, with considerable success. The bumper harvest realized is now feeding the 150 strong student population in the school. We are now able to make savings from growing our own food and thus subsidise the fees charged to the students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” said David Mashedi, the Deputy Manager of the School. “We are now able to retain more students in school as there is enough food for them. Initially, we had to send some students home because we could not meet the costs of sustaining all the students,” he adds.


KCDF seeks to deliver capacity building in collaboration with local authorities, leveraging the fact that at the county level there are people such as county education officers who can support the delivery of training. Local authorities are also important potential sources of additional resources that can support communities with their projects and the philosophy of the KCDF approach is to try to build structures that can ensure the social accountability of the authorities. Melvin explains: “we've done quite a bit in ensuring that the community groups or the organizations that we support are capacitated to be able to question and also be part of this, especially the budgeting process at that particular level as well as the Community Development Fund - because they are devolved funds. All those devolved funds will ensure that these organizations are first of all fit for purpose to receive those resources [but] also hold to account transparency committees or the accountability committees.” As such, KCDF seeks to empower communities to hold the state accountable at a local level. This is not just something that can ensure programmes work, but an articulation of the importance of public participation in governance, that is central to the Kenyan Constitution. This represents quite a radical view on capacity building at a community level, not just as something that increases technical capacity but that can actually improve how democratic governance performs, impacting the authorities as well as communities.  

Ways forward

This localised approach sees the role of the funder as not delivering a technical intervention from the outside but supporting community-based organisations to develop capacity and financial resources themselves. Whilst the KCDF capacity building approach resonates with global practice, its funding model innovates by applying the same philosophy to developing the financial capacity of the community. The net result of this is that a successful engagement allows the community to fund its own future work, both demonstrating and building trust in community-based organisations. In the humanitarian space the challenge of sustainability and the linking of the emergency phase and longer-term recovery are very real. The KCDF model has the potential to show how a localised approach that focuses on building both technical and financial capacity can make a difference.  

Produced with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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