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Spreading the word in Kenya

During a visit to Kenya, I found myself making parallels between that country and mine. Both Kenya and India are quickly developing nations, seen as leaders in their regions. Both are a tremendous source of human talent. Yet, in both countries, the well-off don’t pay much attention to poverty. So, there is no critical mass of public opinion about the issue that I was there to help make public, ie, far too many Kenyan children are dying of easily preventable diseases.

That’s 111,000 unnecessary deaths of children every year. Far less than in India, which, at about 1,953,000, has the dreadful distinction of being the number one country in the world for this statistic. But it’s a pretty high number, nonetheless.

Our team agreed that half the problem would be solved if we made more Kenyans aware of the issue. Right now, they either don’t know about it, or can’t work out what to do about it. My job was to help our team give the Kenyan public a way to engage with the problem, and take part in sorting it out.


Tapping into people’s lives

Easier said than done? Not really. We have a rough idea of where to start. Radio, for example, is well-respected and low in cost, and over 90% Kenyans already listen in. Similarly, mobile phone penetration is tipped to reach a 100% in a couple of years. In a country with over 90% literacy (way higher than India, which rose to just 74% in the latest census), there is a plethora of opportunity.

With a bit of market study, we can also figure out how best to frame the issue in a way that would touch every Kenyan, so they’ll no longer tolerate the unnecessary deaths of children in their country. We’re lucky to be talking to some of the best brains in the business to help us work out a strategy, pro bono.

Getting the message out there

Our team is already working hard to get the message out there. In the smaller circles of power, that can make a difference. For example, we took an opportunity to brief the Kenyan delegation from the finance and health ministries to the African Union (AU), asking them to close two critical gaps in the health system: health financing and health workers.

We worked feverishly to ensure that the briefing was accurate, presentable and ready in time for the AU meet in Ethiopia. One of our partners said, “I have never seen such a comprehensive collection of facts and background research on the status of Kenyan children in one relatively brief format”. The comment reinforced to me that being clear is sometimes all it takes to get more people on board with the change we’re seeking.

The power of shared vision

I was also struck by how the same needs popped up in Kenya as in India, and indeed almost everywhere else in the world — nations give kids the constitutional right to good health, but that’s rarely enough to make sure they get it. This is why inspiring the public to support the issue becomes critical. It does two things:

  • More citizens become aware of the issue, and will lend their voice to demands made of ministers and others who wield the power to change legislation or implement good practice. We need this if we want to push countries towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
  • It creates the right environment for change. Because aware citizens begin to develop their own point of view, and a vision for the society they want to build.

Call me a dreamer, but I think that creating this vision is probably more significant. Making or implementing a few laws is usually the beginning, and not the end, of any campaign for social change. We can get the movement started, but it’s up to citizens to sustain the momentum around the change. It’s people with a clear point of view, which is rational and emotional and ethical, who can easily make their way through obstacles to forge a better future. And that’s what I hope to be able to help our campaign team in Kenya to achieve.

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