The Network Effect: How the Amani Institute Training in Social Innovation Extends Beyond the Classroom

November 14, 2014


This story was written by Geraldine Hepp, Community Manager at Amani Institute.

Despite the prevalence of NGO work in Kenya and the rise of Social Entrepreneurship all around the world, someone like Roseline Orwa can still feel like a misfit. Speaking about how participating in the Social Innovation Management class of 2014 at Amani Institute has changed her life, she pulls out a puzzle piece from her wallet – a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that each of the students received after graduating. “I now know that I am not alone” says Roseline, “we are a community of people who believe change is possible”. She has experienced first-hand what widow abuse means in this country

and the devastating implications it has on an individual and community level. Formally an interior designer, she created Rona Foundation for widows and orphans in Bondo, Western Kenya, as a way to turn her victimhood into survivorhood and share her learning with her community – something that not everybody around her understood or supported.

What Roseline and Rona Foundation Seeks to Achieve 

Rona Foundation has streamlined its work into two tracks – ‘Widow Rights’, and ‘Widows as Changemakers – Reviving Communities’ which seeks to help victims grow into changemakers who are able to transform impoverished, often HIV/AIDS-stricken communities. The silent calamity that such communities experience is tangible in Bondo, where Rona Foundation is supporting over 160 orphans and a community of widows with a center, housing projects and support for education and food – both through donations and a community owned garden.

This center is now growing to become a model for the ‘Widows as Changemakers’ vision Rona Foundation has formulated, seeking to become a social enterprise that can function as an example to other communities and policy makers for the potential of empowered women and transformed mindsets. Roseline wants to show how a loss-and-grief center can function as a spark for entrepreneurial revival of communities across the country. The next big step for the center is to create a cottage factory that will dry, package and distribute Dagaa fish. While the fishermen will find stable pricing and profit sharing through this factory, widows will find employment and a way to co-finance the center. Part of this project involves trainings and ways to engage with the fishermen that will help them transform their views on widows while eradicating the need for widows to give ‘jaboya’ when buying fish (i.e. sexual favors). This sets a precedent in a largely broker-dependent community while showing how damaging mindsets and cultural practices can be transformed practically.

Building a Network of Support at Amani Institute

One of our objectives and sources of value at Amani Institute is access to a global community of changemakers on all levels. Finding a family and support network of like-minded people, says Roseline, helped her transform what sometimes even she regarded as crazy ideas into something of substance. Where passion and goodwill alone drove most of the work of Rona Foundation, she is now establishing necessary processes and structures, and most importantly, found different ways of thinking about her work, daring to formulate a far-reaching vision and strategy. She has found practical support from classmates with complementing skills who advise her on legal and business matters, as well as a collaboration partner in Tatua Kenya, another Amani alumni’s organization. In the wider network she has connected dots by teaming up with Ann Njogu, guest speaker at Amani Institute and founder of the Human Rights organization CREAW, to drive change on a policy and mindset level through the Stop Widow Abuse in Kenya campaign. 

This example shows the value of the network. Not just partnerships with Amani alumni and guestspeakers, but Rona Foundation also recently secured a grant from Tejcheve Foundation (who is a supporter of Amani Institute) for the set-up of the cottage factory. From no prior knowledge about NGO work and protocols, Roseline has now the capability to approach funders and partners to build a hybrid financial model, consisting of grants/donations as well as earned income.

Mechthild van den Hombergh, a Board Member from Tejcheve Foundation, emphasizes Tejcheve’s preference for concrete results, entrepreneurship and income-generating activities that contribute to sustainability – as well as a preference for strong female leadership.

At Amani Institute we are oriented towards stimulating autonomous, creative thinking in our students while supporting them in their journey to build and believe in their own strengths and capacities. This is not just because donors are interested in leaders who show these qualities but because we know that the world needs each one of these changemakers with all their potential.

And Roseline, still holding her puzzle piece in her hand, knows she is part of a bigger whole; she is looking for more people in the wider network who hold puzzle pieces that can fit with hers. If you are interested in her work, please contact her, follow her on Facebook and Twitter. The best way you can support Rona’s work at the moment is by signing the petition to Stop Widow Abuse and partner in supporting orphans to go to school (3$/month per child) and receive regular meals. 


Applications are currently open for Amani Institute’s Certificate in Social Innovation Management in 2015, held in Kenya but open to anyone in the world to apply. Please share the news with others and apply now!



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