Social Innovation Putting Hope in the Hands of Kenya’s Starving

Thursday, September 1, 2011

As the severe drought continues taking lives in Kenya and the rest of east Africa, Concern Worldwide is turning to social innovation to try to save lives. The international humanitarian organisation has created a programme that enables people to make cash transfers to buy food. It is hoped this initiative will help 20,000 people over the next five months. Earlier this year, Concern began noticing a disturbing increase in cases of severe malnutrition among children under five in the slums of Nairobi as this drought, which has been the worst in 60 years (yes, the people of East Africa have suffered other droughts in between!) has caused severe food shortages.

Concern developed this social innovation scheme in June, which was an immediate response to the dire situation. At the heart of this plan is a cash transfer arrangement, where carefully selected beneficiaries are allocated SIM cards. Concern then deposits 1,500 Kenyan shillings ($26 and 16 respectively) on the SIM card at the start of the month. The beneficiaries, who must have an ID, collect the money by visiting a M-Pesa mobile phone agent who delivers the money in one lump sum or in instalments. Once the money has been sent, Concern carries out spot checks to see how it has been spent. M-Pesa is a brilliant idea of social innovation, a practical solution using mobile networks as the vehicle for transferring money to help transform lives of the vulnerable.

Ciunas Bunworth, Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa, Concern Worldwide, says “Our staff will ask the people whether they have received transfers, how much they withdrew and how much they spent, and on what.” The crisis in the Horn of Africa has left more than 12 million people in need of food aid.Somalia has been hit the hardest, while Kenya has been badly affected too; 3.5 million Kenyans are expected to need food aid next month. It is apparent this social innovation idea will relieve the pressure on the many aid agencies out in this region trying to do an impossible job of feeding the people here.

Kenya has experienced a sharp rise in the price of its main staple crop, maize. After hitting new peaks this July, maize prices are currently double their levels from a year earlier in both rural and urban markets. The crisis in Kenya is at tipping point and in a controversial move, the government in July agreed to allow theimport of genetically modified (GM) maize from South Africa even though GM crops cannot yet be legally grown in the country. The poor living in Nairobi’s slums are facing a life-threatening emergency situation. The urban poor have been forced to buy less and eat fewer meals, according to Concern, and families are resorting to desperate measures to get by, with food becoming an unaffordable luxury and needs to act now if it is to save lives. This scheme of giving people access to money has the power to make a world of difference.

Source: Justmeans (link opens in a new window)