From Ksh100 a Day to New York Times Best-Selling Author 

  • An aerial view of Kibra slum in Nairobi, Kenya.
    An aerial view of Kibra slum in Nairobi, Kenya.
    Twitter
  • On Monday September 7, The Guardian, a British news publisher owned by the Guardian Media Group, published a thought-provoking article titled Closing the race gap in philanthropy demands radical candour.

    The timely piece was written by Kennedy Odede, a Kenyan philanthropist and social entrepreneur whose personal journey reads more like fiction.

    In his article, Odede tackles the existence of racial bias in NGOs. He highlighted that according to research, only 3% of all humanitarian funding goes to local and national NGOs, adding that that between 2010 and 2014, only 11% of the total global funding went to organisations led by people of colour.

    At a time when the world is grappling with injustices meted out on people of colour, the Kenyan author decided to tackle the issues head on, despite the potential loss of funding for his NGO, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). 

    Kennedy Odede pictured in Kibra, Nairobi.
    Kennedy Odede pictured in Kibra, Nairobi.
    File

    Swimming against the tide has always been part and parcel of Odede's DNA as he revealed when he shared his story with Kenyans.co.ke.

    Born and bred in the tough streets of Kibra slums, Odede spent 23 years trying to find a way out not only for himself, but for the hundreds of thousands forced to live below the invisible poverty line.

    At the tender age of 10, Odede was forced to fend for himself in the harsh and unforgiving capital city as a street kid.

    This is what led him to take up a job at a local factory in 2004, where he used to earn Ksh100 for ten hours of work. 

    Not one to wallow in self pity, Odede saved up and bought his first soccer ball.

    This may sound insignificant but you have to understand that in the slums, the youth latch on to anything that can provide you with an outlet from the common cycle of drugs and violence.

    Kennedy Odede (Centre) speaking at a forum.
    Kennedy Odede (Centre) speaking at a forum.
    File

    Using his hard-earned football, Odede co-founded SHOFCO and rallied the local community behind engaging in a purposeful endeavour.

    Sixteen years later, his perseverance and passion for social change has seen his foundation morph into one of the largest in the region, impacting over 1.5 million slum dwellers across 14 urban slums in Kenya.

    In 2018, SHOFCO became the youngest-ever organisation to receive the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest humanitarian prize awarded to nonprofits.

    Odede's selfless work did not go unnoticed as he ended up earning a full scholarship to Wesleyan University, a private university in Middletown, Connecticut (US) that was founded in 1831 as a men's college under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

    He graduated in 2012 as the Commencement Speaker and with honours in Sociology.

    The accolades kept coming his way including an inclusion in the 2014 Forbes Top 30 under 30 list of Social Entrepreneurs in the world.

    However, he remained grounded to his roots and directed all the benefits that came along with his rising profile towards changing the lives of Kibra residents.

    In 2015, he finally realised his life-long dream of writing a book, Find Me Unafraid: Love, Hope, and Loss in an African Slum, which he co-authored with his wife and partner, Jessica Posner Odede

    Kennedy Odede and his wife Jessica Posner Odede pictured with a group of girls in Kibra.
    Kennedy Odede and his wife Jessica Posner Odede pictured with a group of girls in Kibra.
    File

    The book soon became a New York Times best-seller and received rave reviews for its candour, raw and vivid description of the power of love.

    Their autobiography became so huge that the likes of prominent personalities such as The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof became instant fans.

    The book revolves around two young people from completely different worlds: Odede from the heart Kibra, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. 

    Odede has gone on to publish opinion pieces for renowned sites such as The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, and Project Syndicate.

    He was deservedly named as a Young Global Leader (YGL) at the World Economic Forum, as well as an Obama Foundation Africa Leader.

    Odede and his wife continue to use their connections and NGO to change the lives of thousands living in Kenyan slums, alongside some of his close friends such as political activist Boniface Mwangi.

    Kennedy Odede and his wife Jessica Posner Odede
    Kennedy Odede and his wife Jessica Posner Odede.
    File
    Audrey Hall