Kennedy Odede started SHOFCO in 2004 with passion, 20 cents, and a soccer ball. Growing up in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, he experienced extreme poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, and deep gender inequality. However, Kennedy also witnessed persistent ingenuity, resilience, and hope within the people of Kibera. After spending time on the streets as a youth, Kennedy secured a job working at a factory, earning $1 per day. During this time, he was given two books, biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela—visionaries who showed Kennedy that great, systemic change can come from within. Inspired, Kennedy quit the factory job to launch a vision of transformative change at the grassroots level.
My Ultimate Goal | Is to transform urban poverty into urban promise by tackling gender inequality through SHOFCO’s grass roots, holistic model. I envision a global movement of transformative change that elevates women across the world’s burgeoning urban slums to become leaders who possess the necessary tools for innovation throughout their communities.
People Who Inspire Me | When I was 17, I was given two books that changed the course of my life: biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Their stories illustrated that with strong grass roots leadership, transformative, positive change can come from within disadvantaged communities. I was utterly captivated by these two leaders—they inspired me to start Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) with no more than 20 cents and a soccer ball. I will always carry the visions of these leaders with me—their belief in the community to ignite social change.
Dealing With Doubt | I learned how to deal with fear and self-doubt at a very young age. Growing up in Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum, I learned that human-life was not valued equally. Violence and loss were constant themes throughout my daily life; life expectancy in Kibera can be just 30 years. Yet, I was inspired by the palpable hope that persisted within the slum and understood that people, just like me, are at the root of social progress. I was able to look at my life through a broader lens; one in which I realized I had the power to evoke powerful change within my community.
On Inspiring Others | I surround myself with people who are like-minded, determined, and passionate. I want to work with people who are not only supportive, but who also share the same dreams as I do and are committed to turning those dreams into reality.
My Highlights | It’s the little things. The community members that line up every day to access our clean, affordable water; the booming peanut butter business launched by one of SHOFCO’s economic empowerment program participants. Witnessing these physical representations of transformative, positive change has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Seeing a student at the Kibera School for Girls capture an entire room with a poem she wrote—when she joined us as a preschooler not speaking any English—that makes me proud.
I Am Driven By | The people of Kibera. They inspire and amaze me with their strength, courage, and determination every day.
How I Use My Mind | The common theme that resonates throughout my mind is hope. My belief in my community has given me the momentum to recognize my desires and accomplish my dreams. I believe that when you dare to hope, we create more hope in the world.
Principles I Live By | One of the most important principles I live by is maintaining a grass roots philosophy. It is the members of any given community—those that walk the streets and breathe the air every day—that best understand their needs, and have great insight into successful methods to meet them. The design of each SHOFCO program is based off of community input and feedback.
My Definition Of Success | I measure my success in the amount of positive social change that I have created. I am fortunate enough to witness my success daily through SHOFCO’s Education, Health Care, Clean Water and Sanitation, and Community Empowerment initiatives. My definition of success has evolved as my hopes and dreams continue grow.
My Key Talent | Because of the opportunities that I fought for and earned, I am lucky to enjoy legitimacy in my community—I was born poor, raised poor and returned to combat the cycle of poverty. I really believe in the inherent dignity of community members and their ownership over solutions to local challenges—this belief, and my dedication to including the community, has made our programs successful. A strength I have been told that I have is a genuine ability to connect with others. Connecting helps me spread SHOFCO’s message of slum revitalization through gender equity and helps inspire people to become a part of our movement. I tell my story frequently. I’m honest and try to be as open as possible. If you are your genuine self, people will connect with you and the message you’re sending.