Aidex Voices
Inclusive Development Advisor for CBM Michael Mwendwa speaking at AidEx Nairobi

Over 11 and 12 September at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, AidEx hosted thought-provoking, cutting edge discussions that provided a comprehensive analysis of how inclusive the aid and development sector is fairing in the East African region.  

Expert panellists detailed their stories and projects on the ground, about the problems faced by the community individually, organisationally and globally. Importantly, in addition to the formation of valuable working relationships, conversations focused on potential solutions, some of which are outlined in the following key highlights.

Day one highlights

For our opening keynote, Head of DFID in Kenya Julius Court focused on inclusion, impact and innovation. He stressed how 16 million Kenyans remain in poverty and that “innovation has the potential to really revolutionise the lives of the poor, unlock development and prosperity accelerating progress towards the Global Goals.”

He told the audience “disability inclusion is an issue that highlights some of the key principles of success for inclusive development” and spoke of the Youth Advisory that was established to gain insight into the level of involvement of young people in strategic work, programme development and communications – an integral move considering 70% of Kenyans are under 30 years old.

DFID twitter blog

Digital equalityKatie Drew, Emergency Lab Manager at UNHCR argued how making technology inclusive and sustainable now superseded the concern about whether the right technology could be resourced in the first place; “Refugee connectivity and inclusion is about availability, affordability and accessibility”, she said.

Mark Kamau, Director of User Experience Design of BRCK expressed our need to think about technology from the ground up, always with the end user in mind, with experiences based on what we see. Kamau remarked on the appetite for digital literacy programmes as people want to be more connected in order to learn and educate others.

In shared sentiment, Kenya Red Cross’ Innovations Manager Safia Verjee insisted adequate user-centred design demands an understanding of the challenges faced by the very communities requiring the solutions. “Participation of the end user has created a community innovation space in Lamu, because innovative solutions cannot be based on assumptions but must be co-designed with the community,” she stated.

Founder and CEO of Growth Africa, Johnni Kjelsgaard said he believed one solution to improving refugee connectivity is to view refugee camps as a marketplace and hub of entrepreneurship.

Disability mainstreaming – Action Network for the Disabled’s Advocacy Officer Mwavunah Kazungu spoke about how “attitudinal barriers are the most limiting barriers for persons with disabilities”, whilst Michael Mwendwa of CBM emphasised “nothing without us full stop” in order to achieve fully inclusive participation. Mwendwa also raised the need to build local capacity to ensure inclusive responses to crises, an issue of major importance given people with disabilities disposition to be left most vulnerable in times of humanitarian disaster.

ANDY twitter

Partnerships in poverty alleviation - Elizabeth Corbishley, Chief Scaling Officer at Village Enterprise explains the reasoning behind the process of evidence collection, adaptation of findings to a refugee context and necessity of partnerships for making change happen.

In consensus, Corbishley highlighted the graduation programme implemented by Village Enterprise in Bidibidi, Rhino Camp and Palorinya settlements in northern Uganda: “We believe entrepreneurship is the way to end extreme poverty and change people’s lives”.

Healthcare delivery – Head of Displacement Unit at MSF Spain Ana Santos touched on the importance of taking mental health issues as seriously as physical with psychosocial support in field operations and urged people to understand how innovation transcends technology.  

Medical Director Tom Catena shared his first-hand insight into treating patients with limited basic resources in the war-torn Nuba Mountains and essentially delivering healthcare in challenging environments by innovating without capital or resources. “Imagine a hospital with no infrastructure, only one road which is cut off during rains and being bombed? When you are forced to be creative it is amazing how you can innovate” Catena told participants.

Zero Hunger - WFP’s Senior Regional Programme Advisor, Ross Smith presented the case for addressing the link between conflict and hunger, through building social capital, improving community relations and people’s access to natural resources, whilst making efforts to ensure all profit-making activities are generated with a climate conscience. He stated how “we need to work with people on conflict resolution methodologies and to improve state services. As NGOs we are often substituting state services.”

Day two highlights

Youth disability inclusion – Opening day two delivering our morning keynote we had disability advocate Maria Njeri passionately reinforce the need to let people with disabilities be fully involved in the inclusion movement because, “they are the experts of experience, of knowledge and experts of practice, which is why Inclusion is not just inviting people with disabilities to the party but also asking them to dance." Njeri insisted education is one of the greatest assets to help people with disabilities access exposure of opportunities, which is why making school more accessible is crucial.

Islamic Relief Tom Palmer

Faith-based aid delivery – Moderator Reverend Cyprian Yobera asked the panellists to share their thoughts on faith sensitivity in humanitarian and development contexts and reflected on the consensus about using the more inclusive term ‘faith-based organisation’ as opposed to ‘religious’.

Kenya Country Director at Islamic Relief, Obaidur Rehman remarked on how global partnerships help to assist a collaborative and culturally sensitive approach on the ground through reaching out to community leaders and building local capacity for sustainability.

Evans Gacheru, Program Manager at Al-Khair Foundation asserted the need to work with neutrality, impartiality and independence in order to deliver assistance with professionalism regardless of an organisation’s faith-based identity.


Localisation  Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam’s Regional Director Horn, East and Central Africa pointed out that the more we seek to make these local partners ourselves by forcing them to implement our systems, the more we deny them who we want them to be. We need unique actors in order to have effective interventions. But are we ready to give away our power in favour of local actors?

Communications are designed for audiences back home where the money is coming from and is therefore unsuitable for local markets, which is why Zigomo contends we must review how we design content to ensure suitability for both local and foreign audiences.

In line with Zigomo, Paul Warambo, Swahili Language Lead from Translators Without Borders rigorously emphasised the absolute imperative of learning and understanding cultural context you are working in being equally as important as providing basic needs like food and water. We must make sure whole organisational aid delivery agendas integrate the right communication in the right language and right format.

An audience member raised the issue of fear and control from international NGOs deriving from insecurity about transparency and accountability on the local level. Questioning how we can limit corruption, Zigomo replied by asserting the need for external pressure on local actors to not just take orders from above but to have a responsibility to question, push and demand for more control. “There will always be ill-intentioned people – the key is to strengthen systems by getting communities to directly report what is happening and not happening. The local partners can’t do this in isolation without donor money for administration required to build their systems”, she said.

Economic sustainable developmentPrivate sector partnerships were established as integral to development. Senior Manager of Foundations Programmes at Safaricom, Henry Kilonzo demonstrated how their partnerships improved lives by implementing a five percent target to employ people with disabilities and has so far achieved two percent. An initiative exemplary of how a philanthropic social responsibility initiative can evolve from sympathetic, to strategically advantageous and meaningfully inclusive.

Women empowermentDiram Duba took to the stage to speak about her work with Amref in Marsabit championing the wellbeing of women and girls for the right to education and putting a stop to harmful cultural practices. Country Director for DRC Kenya, David Kangethe spoke about the necessary role of men in the fight to end FGM through changing their attitudes and mindset towards marrying uncircumcised girls.

Diram Duba

Over the two days at AidEx Nairobi, the willingness from various actors across the sector to become more meaningfully inclusive and shift away from superficial tokenism was ardently apparent. Inclusiveness needs to be enshrined in everything we do, and it will only be possible to achieve full inclusion by engaging everyone- one hundred percent participation, one hundred percent of the time. From young women and girls to people with disabilities and local communities, all of us must be adequately resourced and allowed to be at the helm of the movement pushing for progress.

Join us on 13 and 14 November 2019 at AidEx in Brussels by registering here >>