The Nourafchan Foundation nurtures communities in Kenya through a unique model of philanthropy driven by and for the people says Laura Beaney
In 2010, as part of a longstanding interest, Rafi Nourafchan, a philanthropist from LA, dutifully examined several Kenyan communities and made a pledge; to create much-needed synergy between the country’s vast philanthropic efforts.
Step into Nairobi’s Westlands district and you’ll see barstools populated by professionals from Cairo, Rotterdam, Dubai, San Diego, and Sorrento, sipping strong Kenyan coffee and ordering from international menus – forming a snapshot of the ever-expanding number of workers in Africa’s thriving international aid sector.
Known as ‘Nairobbery’ during the Nineties, outside of the expat compounds many Kenyans are confronted by lack of employment, access to health care and education, funds to pay for food, human trafficking, rape, and HIV as their reality. A sprawling capital city with proportionate problems, some survive on just a dollar a day.
There’s around 246 registered NGOs, but despite this sizeable number Rafi was struck by the great sense of disconnect.
‘I realised that Kenya doesn’t particularly need another NGO per se,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of well-intentioned operators that cover a lot of ground. But by spending time getting to know the community it became evident that organisations were either inefficiently trying to reinvent the wheel with mandates that overlapped or they suffered from focus and resources that were limited, meaning that problems remained partially addressed. An AIDS organisation might, for example, provide life-saving care for youth, but that child may then not have access to education or to proper nutrition or the vocational skills needed to ultimately secure employment.
‘To truly have impact, we must strive to create as holistic and comprehensive a solution as possible, and we intend to do so by synergising and defragmenting philanthropy.’
Guided by this principle and the desire to empower the Kenyan community, Rafi established the Nourafchan Foundation (TNF) and began to address the problem. The Foundation identifies best-of-breed practices and takes players in-house or collaborates to streamline efforts. On the surface their mission gives a very simple overview of what needed to change, but years of research have gone into their understanding of why some nonprofits are more effective than others. TNF’s data ultimately revealed that when people feel like they are a part of a larger community, or that their small actions are contributing to a bigger outcome, the most dramatic changes can occur.
Essentially, TNF de-fragments how philanthropy operates and Rafi hoped that, through locally-focused initiatives, they could connect like-minded individuals to develop their talent and potential. From initial conversations with local stakeholders to collaborations with leading Kenyan institutions, he understood that connection, communication, and community must remain at the crux of the Foundation’s efforts.
Rapidly building local support by promoting indigenous creativity in all of its forms, TNF has shone a spotlight on the creative forces previously hidden in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.
‘TNF has united with, and supported, the slum’s artisans, business women, youth organisations, and more,’ says Deqa Abshir, a TNF project manager based in Kenya.
In Africa, organisations typically enter with an international eye that’s excellent from a strategic perspective but sometimes their projects feel far removed from African culture. Rafi made a conscious decision to employ Kenyans wherever possible in order to not only support local employment but also to balance his successful initiatives with values that are uniquely African.
In Africa, organisations typically enter with an international eye that’s excellent from a strategic perspective but sometimes their projects feel far removed from African culture.
‘In June, I had the pleasure of working with TNF on their sustainable water project, Maji Nour,’ says Deqa. ‘In an innovative way to drive attention to Kibera’s unsanitary and limited water supply, we decided to establish the slum’s first ever large-scale philanthropic concert, Nourfest!’
The festival, themed Big Splash, was headlined by Kibera’s own, Octopizzo, a leading hip-hop artist and community activist who was joined by the founding father of Kenyan graffiti art, Bankslave, as well as the famed ZamaSimba Acrobats and the Shining Hope For Communities dancers. Local artisans and food vendors set up shop, supported by the Kibera Integrated Community Self-Help Programme, in a thriving marketplace that showcased their eclectic skills and craftwork.
‘When over 1500 energised and inspired youth gathered, it was humbling,’ she recalls. ‘The people of Kibera were so touched that someone wanted to put together an event to celebrate their talents and community.’
Over the years, TNF’s unique approach has got them noticed internationally with contributors joining from all walks of life. One of the visiting donors was California-based Robert Flaxman, founder of Crown Realty and Development, a leading real estate company with a portfolio exceeding $1 billion. ‘Work with children has always been my passion,’ says Robert. ‘But in the past, I’d typically be inspired by a presentation or gala dinner and write a cheque.’
TNF’s model espouses a form of active and participatory philanthropy. Its collaborative work with other NGOs and local communities is already yielding tangible results, but it’s their ability to connect and engage an individual directly with the cause that’s triggered a profound personal impact. ‘Rafi has created a unique platform and medium to affect change on a very personal and direct basis,’ says Flaxman. ‘TNF stood out to me because they foster such interpersonal relationships as well as providing aid. My trip to Kibera was actually an effort to enhance my relationship with my daughter. It was a chance to do good together and discover common, shared values. By supporting TNF’s sustainable water project and raising awareness through Nourfest, we were able to meet directly with the community, stakeholders, and providers like the water engineer which in turn allowed me to use my expertise as a real estate developer to ensure our money was going to be most effectively deployed. There was great satisfaction in this direct connection.’
Sometimes all that’s needed is a fresh perspective to cultivate change. Operating as the people’s philanthropy, driven by and for the people, TNF’s success stems from an understanding that we’re in an age where connection – between individuals, communities, and cultures – is desperately needed, and more possible than ever before. Many of us are born with talent but not all have opportunity. Through their thoughtful and nuanced approach to philanthropy, TNF bridges this gap earning passionate support from not only the Kenyan community, but also those, like Flaxman, who have the potential to change the country’s status quo.