What started as a game of soccer is now an organization with 1,000 employees transforming the lives of millions. In 2004, Kennedy Odede founded SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), an organization that provides essential services and advocates on behalf of communities in an urban slum outside of Nairobi, Kibera—Kennedy’s hometown.
But this sprawling grassroots organization began years earlier, as a youth group focused on sports that Kennedy formed when he was just 15. He’s been on a journey to grow and professionalize his mission ever since.
“As a poor street child in Kibera, I wasn’t trying to start an organization, I was just helping my community and solving problems,” says Kennedy. “The biggest challenge I’ve struggled with is, ‘how do you build an institution?’”
SHOFCO now operates in 40 of 47 counties across Kenya, reaching over 2 million people and is continuing to expand rapidly. To support this growth, McKinsey.org, McKinsey’s global philanthropic initiative to help build the capabilities of nonprofits, spent a year supporting SHOFCO. Working pro bono, McKinsey’s Nairobi office also worked to improve the financial sustainability of three of SHOFCO’s programs.
We incorporated the language of the program into our daily work, and even when we were having a cup of tea.
“SHOFCO is an amazing organization that absolutely changes the world for the people in Kenya’s largest urban slums,” says Harald Pöltner, a partner in the Nairobi office. “Supporting their growth and expansion is vital work our firm is proud to be part of.”
Focusing on the ‘Essentials’
One of McKinsey.org’s flagship programs is Ability to Execute (A2E) for Nonprofits, which builds the capacity employees need to drive organizational change. By honing essential skills ranging from prioritization to giving feedback, the program helps teams shift mindsets and establish a common language that leads to better ways of working.
“Eighty percent of our staff are from the community,” says Kennedy. “Things like keeping meetings on schedule and focused: when you grow up in a Kibera slum, how do you know these things?”
The A2E program also sustains learning over time, giving participants the opportunity to integrate the concepts into their work and the culture of the organization.
“We ask each other about our energy levels, remind people to do pre-mortems and run meetings that matter,” says Dr. Caroline Kisia, former COO of SHOFCO about the impact of the program. “We incorporated the language of A2E into our daily work, and even when we were having a cup of tea.”
The program was dynamic—delivered online and also in-person because most people did not have reliable digital access. McKinsey.org’s Cara Volpe led the team that partnered with SHOFCO and traveled to Kibera to train departmental champions to take the skills to all levels of the organization.
“By activating a large group of internal champions who cascaded the program throughout their departments, entire teams changed how they worked together and individuals with little access to digital tools were able to participate in the experience,” says Cara.
After a few months of going through the programs themselves, managers then led huddles to coach their frontline staff, from schools to clinics, on these skills, eventually reaching over 500 staff across SHOFCO. The new tools helped Welma Atieno, a STEAM teacher at the Kibera School for Girls who also trains teachers, both in her own work and in her supervisory capacity.
“My teachers now come to our trainings prepared and organized, and by focusing on my ‘big rocks’ (high-priority tasks) I have more time and energy to give them and my students,” says Welma. “And for myself, I know I want to move up into management, and now I have the skills. I cannot recommend this program enough.”
Keeping SHOFCO around for generations
Meanwhile, McKinsey’s pro bono team came in to evaluate three programs SHOFCO was looking to scale: a low-cost wholesale of critical food staples, a savings and credit cooperative, and a funeral insurance program.
Each of these three programs had their own unique challenges. The recommendations from the McKinsey team varied: they found that the food wholesale model wasn’t primed for expansion and the funeral insurance cooperative carried a high level of risk.
“We helped them realize that the right path forward can be more nuanced than simply doing more of what is having impact,” says Austin Schaefer, engagement manager on the pro bono work.
The savings and credit cooperative, however, was a program Schaefer and the team recommended expanding. SHOFCO saw that low-income people had a need for its service, as the number of account holders was rising, currently at 15,000. It wanted to put donor money into meeting this demand.
“SHOFCO was trying to operate a bank without a profit motive, just its own financial stability,” says Austin. “And they were overwhelmed trying to sustain their rate of growth.”
Expanding sustainably would be key to continuing to increase donor support.
The McKinsey team looked at the loan cycle process and deciphered how many staff to hire and with which skill sets, and where to open additional field offices, setting them on a path to breaking their logjam.
“The McKinsey team gave us detailed reports and recommendations to move us toward financial sustainability,” says Dr. Kisia. “They’ve stayed in touch with SHOFCO and continue to be a resource as we implement.”
For Kennedy, it’s another big step on his journey to bring prosperity to his hometown of Kibera.
“I have hope we'll keep on strengthening our institution,” Kennedy says. “We started with 20 cents and a soccer ball and look where we are now. Just imagine what’s possible.”