Green Olive Trust UK
1. What is Green Olive Trust UK?
Our small charity was set up in 2014 as a direct response to the passionate concern of some local people in a rural part of Kakamega district in Western Kenya to improve educational opportunities for the children, who mostly do not have the means to progress beyond Primary School. Our Kenyan friends see education as the primary route for the community to begin to build its own resources to combat the poverty, disease and conflict which are endemic.
As a small organisation we are confident that we know the people who we are working with. We support young people who show potential and who cannot afford to continue their education without our support. Many other bursary schemes look to fund the top achievers in the primary school exams. The young people we are working with are from very poor backgrounds and have often attended primary schools which lack even basic facilities such as electricity, desks and books. So it is not surprising that their names do not figure at the top of the national exam lists. But our local contacts have proved themselves very good at identifying potential – we have not yet seen anyone we have taken on fail. There is a huge hunger for, and commitment to, education. The University students we fund have formed an ongoing group for mutual support and to provide mentoring and other help back in the villages for high school students and families.
2. A bit of background (SLIDE 1)
Two smiling young people on their graduation day represent the success of our scheme thus far. Eight university graduates have completed courses, and several, but not all, are now in permanent employment. We have also fully or partially funded more than 20 High School students
The young man talking with two nurses. Is the first student I personally sponsored. And represents the beginning of the Green Olive story. The contact between myself and Geoffrey the visionary who set the scheme up was, for some years, just on a one-to-one level. I contributed towards getting Oscar through a pharmacy degree. In the past ten years he has worked first as a hospital pharmacist, then as head of pharmacy in a Turkana district and latterly as Medical Officer of Health in that same district. But he has never lost his passion for helping people back in his home district. From his first act on earning money was to buy his parents a cow, to helping local people to improve facilities at very basic village clinics to setting up the first ever “eye camp” in his home area in partnership with another small UK charity. In addition he is now a board member actively seeking to sort out some issues for the Green Olive Foundation in Kenya.
The group of women are all widows. They are inspirational in the way they support one another. And through contributing tiny sums of money in a “merry-go-round” every time they meet are able to support one another at times of crisis and have persuaded us to share the costs of educating several of their children through high school.
Thus far you have heard part of a talk given to participants at a fund-raising event held last Saturday. But from here on these comments are for your ears only. I have given today’s presentation the title: Green Olive Foundation Kenya/Green Olive Trust UK: Working in Partnership.
Although that is our aspiration I can’t honestly say that it is the reality right now. In November 2013 at the end of our first visit to Kenya my husband and I sat with Churchill Malimo in his office in Nairobi together with Geoffrey Segero. We met as Quakers together seeking a way forward. We agreed that Geoffrey’s work was significant and that Churchill would help him to resurrect the embryonic Green Olive Foundation he had set up in 2010 and that Bob and I for our part would seek to set up a UK charity so that we could go beyond our previous informal family support to one or two students and actively fundraise.
A little over four years down the line much has been achieved but we have some quite serious lingering concerns.
2015 Visit. I travelled with two young graduate volunteers from the UK who brought energy, experience of impact assessment, and skills in running workshops, and worked with us all on a Shared Theory of Change document. One ongoing outcome has been the establishment by the Green Olive students of an ongoing WhatsApp group which they intend will meet face-to-face once a year. The aims of the group are provision of mutual support and mentoring of younger children and families in the community. They intend future annual meetings to be self-funding, and are also encouraging those who have graduated already to contribute to the bursary fund themselves.
However our team of three returned to the UK with concerns for instance about how the students were selected in the first place, the level of pressure put on Geoffrey by family members and other individuals in the community, and a lack of real connection by named Green Olive Foundation Board members with the work.
2016 and 2017 were particularly difficult years – although fund-raising continued and students all seemed to do well. Our difficulties were in the areas of:
Communication. Little news of what was happening on the ground – apart from occasional emails from university students.
Finance: We paid money into the Green Olive Foundation Kenya bank account but apart from acknowledgement that it had arrived got very little further financial feedback, very few receipts from universities were forwarded to us and no proper financial statements.
Governance: we discovered that the Green Olive Foundation members did not meet face to face in this period.
In addition there was illness of key players at both ends, the Kenyan elections, Churchill changing his job, and the unavoidable lack of a visit from a member of the UK Trustees during the 2 year period.
Currently we are hopeful that these issues will soon be resolved. Oscar Shamalla has stepped in to deal with distribution of funds and provision of reports from the Kenyan end. A visit is being planned for April or May.
3. Differences of approach (SLIDE 2)
We share a common commitment – to the young people and families and ultimately to the wider community. But we all sometimes have difficulty understanding some quite fundamental differences of approach.
Immediate crisis response vs long-term planning
The symbol of the church which is built one layer of bricks at a time as the money comes in vs all the regulations and procedures of a UK charity with heavy emphasis on policies on reserves, safeguarding, financial reporting, fair and transparent selection of students for support.
Spend the money that comes in immediately, spreading it across as many young people as possible, and then “trust that the Lord will provide more”/ vs “be good stewards of resources” – a reserves policy which means that we know we can fund each student through to the end of their course.
To the one it is self-evident that an immediate and compassionate response is needed to the hungry child there and then: the other has an understanding that spreading what money there is too thinly could lead to none of the students we have committed to being able to complete their course of study.
Our UK Trustees are dedicated and take seriously the responsibilities of accountability, prudent planning, establishing policies on reserves, risk-taking and safeguarding. The dedicated group of 5 trustees has many strengths but also some gaps – in particular others are not able to travel to Kenya to link with the work on the ground, and as a group we lack long-term Africa experience.
In Kenya, in spite of our initial intentions, the Green Olive Foundation is not yet fully established and Board members have not been kept closely in touch with the work carried out by the inspirational but “go-it-alone” visionary who set it up.
4. So what do our African friends think of us? (SLIDE 3)
Here is a bit of a go. Most of the positive words have been said or written to me. Some of the negatives have involved my reading between the lines! People are far too polite to speak them out. And the caveat is that we should not generalise too much. There are sure to be as many opinions as there are people to express them.
5. Ongoing challenges (SLIDE 4)
Our remoteness. How do we build better links without spending too high a portion of our income on travel?
Improving governance and communications.
Financial accountability. How do we help our Kenyan colleagues to set up a system of recording which works for them and for us? Does any one have suggestions? Experience of Mpesa payments and keeping track of detail.
GOT UK. Policies in place on Reserves, Risk-Taking and being worked on in relation to Safeguarding. How do we best ensure shared understanding and commitment with Kenyan colleagues?
Further work is still needed to ensure a mutual understanding of student selection and that the agreed policy is adhered to.
Ensuring good succession planning at both ends:
GOT UK needs a broader base and in particular new Trustees who are willing to travel and connect with the work in Kenya
Green Olive Foundation Board in Kenya is not yet fully functional, to date too much has been undertaken by a lone individual.
Once these issues have been resolved we have plenty we want to be doing, such as helping to develop links with other organisations for the widows group and ex-students with specific interests. Following the very successful brokering of the collaboration between Oscar and SightAid International in setting up the eye clinic.
6. But finally to finish on a positive note.
That fundraising day I mentioned earlier was entitled “An uplifting day of African Song”. It was a joyful day provided by a musician friend of Green Olive. Over £1,500 was raised and it gave an optimistic start to 2018.