I got my start working with a community-based organization in the Kibera slums of Kenya, interning during a study abroad program. The experience was and continues to be transformative – nearly 7 years later I’m proud to be still involved with them and seeing how they have transformed their community through providing free secondary school education for girls. Working with the Kibera Girls’ Soccer Academy was an education in the power of what communities can achieve working together.
No MBA, no doctorate degree can take the place of dedicated people who are willing to experiment, fail, reevaluate and transform day after day no matter the challenges. And there were challenges – within 2 months after I arrived, the school was evicted from the bare two rooms it had acquired unless it began charging the girls tuition. The school’s director and founder, Abdul Kassim (check out his Nairobi TEDx audition below)- a charismatic man, a leader with a simple vision and a heart full of love for his community and for seeing it become a place where everyone has a chance – and I had many long walks and talks about the nature of challenges, remaining true to convictions and facing the unknown.
In the end, he went to the people who mattered most – the students – and asked what he should do. The school chose eviction and everyone together – students, teachers, and a small intern – worked together to procure space and finances to build new classrooms.
Today the school has graduated over 100 girls, educates 120 more every year, has graduates attending university, and more important is a symbol of hope, change, and locally driven development in Kibera. The habits of self-reflection, mission-driven evaluation remain a core focus of the school. While organizationally the school is learning, growing – its continual focus on remaining dedicated to its original purpose of providing free secondary education for girls remains a priority.
My lesson: Remaining true to your mission is crucial and worth the challenges. This is as true as an evaluator as it is for organizations.
What lessons have you learned through your work as an evaluator or working with organizations? What are some of your personal mantras when you’re working in evaluation?