UPDATE:  Since our first Empowerment summit in July, 2016, our local Gnu Partners have successfully completed 4 additional Summit's in locations throughout Kenya.

The first Gnu Empowerment Summit recently gathered 35 leaders from several Gnu Foundation partner organizations including Furaha Community Foundation, Macheo Children’s Center, Rays of Hope Health Center, Children of Strength/Watoto Wenye Nguvu, DISC Inititatives, Immaculate Heart of Mary Community of Hope Care Center.  This 2 ½ day conference was hosted by Gnu Foundation with underwriting sponsorship provided by RCA (Real Capital Analytics).

The Gnu Empowerment Summit reminded me of the power of bringing like-minded people together.  At the first night’s dinner, the participants from each of the different organizations sat among themselves and wondered what they would be taught.   By the end of the summit, we were one group breaking bread and celebrating as friends and colleagues who could teach and learn from each other.  

Tonee Ndungu, a successful entrepreneur and energetic teambuilding moderator, deftly led the Summit  –bringing each voice into the room and using powerful exercises to bring leadership concepts to life.  To get us all started, he challenged us to figure out how to exactly measure 4 liters of water using only a 5 liter and 3 liter bottle and a tub full of water.  Go ahead and try it.   None of our 2 person teams got the answer.  If you can’t get it, ask a couple of 8 year olds (they can typically solve it in less than 10 minutes).  The point?  Try different things. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work, you can try something else.   Build upon others’ success.  And the ability to solve a problem requires a different mindset than created it. 

I was inspired to see connections made and “ah ha light bulb moments” when someone from one organization made a suggestion based on their experience that could help someone else.  The social businesses that Rays of Hope started to provide income and jobs to their volunteers so that they could afford to volunteer for the clinic, offered a concrete example to several organizations who are struggling to generate enough income from donations to thrive or scale.

As a woman executive with a commitment to support women leaders, I paid particular attention to the powerful women leading organizations here in Kenya.  One woman leader is a mentor to many of the participants in the room.  She strikes me as one who leads with an iron fist in a velvet glove guided by an open heart.   Other women (and several men) were very timid when they first spoke.  With Tonee’s encouragement, they spoke up and boy did they have lots to say.  They have big dreams and big visions coupled with the credibility and experience to make things happen.

The learnings from the Summit itself were important. Some of them include:

  • The importance of aligning vision, resources, strategy and an action plan to making things happen.
  • Think differently and to get different perspectives to address a problem or challenge
  • Create the structures and systems that will allow organizations to expand
  • One of my favorite “learnings” was from a women who “learned that there is such a thing as a portable cell battery changer.  When it was clear that the wall sockets were full, another participant handed her a charger.”  

More important than any specific learning are the relationships that were forged over the 2 ½ days together. The group picked up the mantle from James Sempere, the Summit host and founder of Gnu Foundation, with an intention to get together periodically to dive deeper into topics. 

The energy from the final celebration complete with BBQ goat, music DJ’d by a Summit participant Victor, and Tusker beer was palpable.   If that energy drives this group of people forward, they will do even more amazing things than they already are in areas of healing, educating children, providing homes for children in need and helping lift families out of poverty.  What could be more inspirational than that?  

-Beth Stelluto