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Creating opportunities for economic development in East Africa

Buckner staff recently visited East Africa and connected with collaborators

For more than 140 years, Buckner International has answered the call to, “take care of orphans and widows in their despair,” through innovative social services programs, strong community collaborations and most recently, through economic initiatives in Impact Investment and Business Development.

Buckner is at the forefront of helping create generational transformation for families across East Africa. Our targeted Impact Investing efforts in this part of the world over the last couple of years has helped to support a strong infrastructure for business skills training, business development and employment opportunities.

While on a recent trip, I was struck with the notion that Kenya and Ethiopia stand as beacons of cultural richness, historical significance and untapped potential. Yet beneath their surface lies the stark reality of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment.

These issues intertwine to create a complex tapestry of deprivation that impedes social mobility and exacerbates inequalities. Amidst these challenges, economic development emerges as a potent force capable of breaking the cycle of poverty and fostering inclusive growth.

The work of Buckner Kenya, led by Executive Director Dickson Masindano, offers families across Kenya an invitation to take part in schools, clinics, financial literacy, family coaching and job skills training. Because of these efforts, social enterprises (business) have been established where net profits are dedicated to directly supporting the NGO's operating budget (like BUKE Tours & Travel).

Creating opportunities to sustain and improve well-being and self-sufficiency

The desire Buckner had to impact families and communities beyond what local NGO leadership could provide created the entrance into the impact investing world. 

Kentegra with Buckner staffOne example of these investments is Kentegra. Led by David Payne (pictured above with Buckner team members) and his incredible team, Kentegra has become the industry leader in the farming and biotechnology field, changing the farming landscape in Kenya toward cash crops. They have a focus on chrysanthemums, the source of pyrethrum, a highly sought organic oil that is used in organic pesticides.

Ana, who is a pyrethrum farmer, is able to harvest her crops twice a week for four years straight. The average salary of a farmer in Kenya is $27 a month, but Kentegra’s farmers make an average $287 a month – creating incredible economic mobility for families. Ana is pictured below with Samela Macon, Buckner Children and Family Services vice president.

Impacting farmersThe impact of this salary allows families to send their children to school, and in the case of Ana, even hire someone else to help tend her fields. Kentegra currently works with over 20,000 farmers, with hopes to reach 100,000, making this intervention a sustainable, scalable and replicable, generational transformation.

Stability inhibits poverty while also fostering community

One of the primary benefits of economic development is its capacity to generate employment, particularly in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing. In countries where youth unemployment rates are disproportionately high, job creation is paramount for harnessing the demographic dividend and ensuring inclusive growth.

By providing individuals with stable employment, economic development not only alleviates poverty but also fosters social cohesion and stability. In Ethiopia, through the stewardship of Renew Capital, we spent some time with the masterminds behind Teraki, a podcast and book production company using technology to connect Ethiopians to relevant cultural content by helping content creators find their voice and platform.

In rural areas, improved infrastructure can unlock agricultural productivity, reduce transportation costs and enhance food security – uplifting communities out of poverty. We also met with leaders of Jamil One, the first ever automation platform to manage community groups data and link them to financial service providers, such as insurance and banks, allowing families access to necessary services for a healthy life.

All these examples highlight the incredible talent, resources, ingenuity and economic opportunity thriving in East Africa. We continue to learn these frontier markets are the perfect place for those who have a passion and a calling for sustainable global impact.

Challenges to overcome with economic development in Africa

Despite their shared aspirations for development, the countries of East Africa face unique contextual challenges that require tailored approaches.

Economic development represents more than just a pathway to prosperity. It's a transformative social service intervention that holds the power to uplift lives and communities in Kenya and Ethiopia alike. By fostering sustainable growth, creating employment opportunities, enhancing infrastructure and promoting entrepreneurship, economic development paves the way for a more equitable and inclusive society.

As Kenya and Ethiopia chart their development trajectories, prioritizing economic development as a social service intervention is paramount for building a brighter future for all their citizens.

It’s time for us to think of these frontier markets not as places of need, but as important, strategic locations and partners in the fight against poverty.

Written by Diego Da Silva, director of strategic projects for Buckner International.

Find out more about the impact Buckner is making in Kenya.

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