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Fostering Development from within a Community—The Value of Small Nonprofits

Most people who view the Kibera slum of 1 million–with its burgeoning youth population–on the outskirts of Nairobi see a powder keg waiting to explode.  A few others, like Rye Barcott, see a place of possibility and untapped potential.  Barcott, the founder of Carolina for Kibera and author of It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace, first encountered Kibera as a University of North Carolina ROTC student studying peace.  He went on to become a lieutenant in the Marines, to fight in Iraq, and to start a nonprofit focused on youth, health care, and community values in Kibera.

At a recent presentation in Washington, DC, Rye discussed with Elkanah Odembo, Kenya’s Ambassador to the US, the strengths and weaknesses of what he calls participatory development and how it can help foster change that comes from within a community.

“What I realized when I met the young people living there was that talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” he said.  Rye eventually went on to foster opportunity through soccer, community service, and health care.  He helped empower people to be the change they wanted to see.

How do small organizations like Carolina for Kibera make a difference?  Ambassador Odembo and Rye agree that they provide depth versus breadth. Ambassador Odembo said that although governments like his own need to develop the breadth–bold approaches that bring social and economic opportunities to its young people,  “. . . the role of small nonprofits cannot be underrated. They provide the depth—one individual at a time makes a difference. “

Grassroots organizations like Carolina for Kibera and other Aid for Africa members are working everyday with their partners on the ground in Africa to provide the depth—one soccer game, one education, one healthcare intervention, one micro-loan at a time.

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