By Laura Gossman

Editor’s note: Many of the Praxis organizations that have been profiled in recent months are either based internationally with nationals and westerners leading the enterprise or have headquarters in the U.S. with national leadership abroad, or some combination of both. To continue with our international partnership series, we interviewed Duncan Kimani, Kenyan director for CARE for AIDS. For more information on the organization’s start-up story, read here. To consider some of the research that has been done on partnerships like these read here. Below Duncan shared about his role with the organization, what his partnership with Americans is like, and his hopes for the future.

Duncan Kimani, 32, was born and raised in Kenya. He grew up in a Christian family where his passion for serving others started at an early age through the inspiration of his father who serves as a pastor in a local village church.  At age 22, he was compelled by God to respond towards the suffering in society, and through one of his great friends, Cornel, and the Kenyan co-founder of CARE for AIDS ministry.  This call was affirmed as they both shared what God was showing them concerning the state of their ailing family members in a society that suffered daily from HIV/AIDS.

Duncan Kimani at a local church service.

Duncan Kimani at a local church service.

For Duncan, the work of CARE for AIDS started in a unique manner compared to others he observed around him who struggled to obtain the resources and knowledge needed to tackle such difficult issues. For him, he stood by three success factors he learned earlier from an inspirational speaker:  start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. He and Cornel teamed up and started supporting those among their close relatives, including his adopted boy, George, who was born with the virus, while Cornel was supporting his ailing parents.

As they both continued caring for those close to them, they began to ask themselves how they could empower the local church to fulfill its God-given mission of supporting the needy in its communities. Duncan shared, “it is through this that God brought three American college students in our paths as they were on mission to film a documentary about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. In a Godly way, this turned out to be God’s mission of partnering the American students for His greater work, which until today we have remained focused and determined that it can be done.”

Kenyan Co-Directors and Founders of CARE for AIDS, Cornel Onyango (left) and Duncan Kimani (right) at Duncan's wedding.

Kenyan Co-Directors and Founders of CARE for AIDS, Cornel Onyango (left) and Duncan Kimani (right) at Duncan’s wedding.

When CARE for AIDS was officially founded in 2007, Duncan and Cornel both served as the spiritual, medical and economic empowerment counselors. Today, they both share the Country Director’s roles and are responsible for equipping, training, fundraising, marketing and creating relationships for growth or expansion. In what was started by two Kenyans, now employs more than 40 nationals.  In what was started by two families, CARE for AIDS has now reached out to about 4,000 families in Kenya.

Lucy Kimani, one of CFA's former clients who got a job as a community health advocate while she was in the CFA program. The children are some students who she teaches about HIV/AIDS.

Lucy Kimani, one of CFA’s former clients who got a job as a community health advocate while she was in the CFA program. The children are some students who she teaches about HIV/AIDS.

As Duncan reflected on his partnership with Americans in this endeavor, he shared that if it hadn’t been for three college students, CARE for AIDS wouldn’t be where it is today. Justin Miller was only nineteen years old when they first met, and “from his own pocket money, he was quick to trust that he can make a difference in the world if he was obedient with the little he had,” said Duncan. Today, Justin serves as the Executive Director of CFA leading a team of four in the U.S., and handles the responsibility of funding all U.S. and the Kenyan operations financially.

Duncan’s first thought when it came to Justin’s leadership was it “passed the test of the day” because Justin penetrated all the barriers that come with fundraising for a young, inexperienced organization by generating support for twenty Kenyan communities through churches, and handling thousands of our supporters in the U.S.

The greatest benefits Duncan and his Kenyan colleagues have experienced from this partnership are the level of trust, capacity building, and autonomy provided by Justin and the U.S. leadership. Duncan readily admits he grew up in a culture that does not typically keep records of important figures. So Nick Gordon, CFA’s first American employee based in Kenya, helped set up record keeping systems and matrixes to measure success, but since then, it has been the Kenyan team that maintains and uses the system. Duncan is also grateful that he is trusted to “handle their own issues” as he directs the Kenyan team, and for the capacity to “keep the main thing, the main thing (focus),” even though in the past this was not their particular strength. Now, he prides himself in being an expert in this field.

Before visiting the U.S. headquarters, Duncan said his mindset was more local than global, and because Justin provided the opportunity for him and Cornel to visit, his global perspective grew. During these U.S. visits, he and Cornel have had the opportunity to be a part of the U.S. board meetings and assist with the U.S. side of fundraising.

Pictured left to right: Duncan Kimani, Nick Gordon, Justin Miller, and Cornel Onyango at a U.S. waffle house during Duncan and Cornel's trip. Nick Gordon, previous Kenyan-based staff, now serves on the board and established all the systems and processes to ensure successful replication of the model and measurement of the organization's impact.

Pictured left to right: Duncan Kimani, Nick Gordon, Justin Miller, and Cornel Onyango at a U.S. waffle house during Duncan and Cornel’s trip. Nick Gordon, who now serves on the board, had established all the systems and processes to ensure successful replication of the model and measurement of the organization’s impact.

This American-Kenyan partnership has intrinsically brought about the merging of strengths from two different cultures. But at the same time, some of these exact assets have created some challenges as well.

The two challenges that stand out the most are:  

  • Managing expectations at the local level: when beneficiaries know there is an international partner, they tend to expect more e.g. financial support.
  • Distance with beneficiaries: even with technological advancement that the U.S. partners have helped with, the physical distance is a challenge. One cannot underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings when it comes to serving individuals and families.
Care for AIDS client Michael Mwaura and his two boys.

CARE for AIDS client Michael Mwaura and his two boys.

The strengths this partnership has brought in:

  • Diversity: They share the same vision, but have varying perspectives due to the difference in cultural backgrounds, and the developing vs. developed world.
  • Support for international resource mobilization:  The American connection has made this easier and brought in resources in a greater capacity, but on the flip side, the reality is that some donors “trust their own” more.
  • Broader networks: International networks have helped expand awareness, support and involvement of CFA.
  • Local credibility: while the international partnership has helped CFA gain local credibility and greater trust for those involved, the reality in Kenya is that many believe that in order to be a credible organization, it has to have an international partnership, and cannot stand as its own entity.
  • Professional/technical support:  U.S. partners have particularly helped with strategic planning and implementation in this area.

Duncan’s hope for the future is to see greater growth for the organization, where more people will continue receiving the help they need.  He shared, “my happiest day will be when HIV/AIDS will be a thing of the past like leprosy.  I would be happy to not only see the client’s life get better, but the employment opportunities getting better as our country is more that 50 percent unemployed.”

A family helped by CARE for AIDS at sunset.

A family helped by CARE for AIDS at sunset.

Lastly, he acknowledged that if they had more human resource personnel and financial help from the U.S., the partnership base would deepen, and improve results as they look to expanding their work all over the world.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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