The Kibo Way
The following describes the foundational principles of Kibo USA and its contributions to the Kibo Way. This is intended to help our American and other non-African partners and visitors appreciate Kibo’s foundations and how their participation extends toward the on-the-ground work of Kibo’s African leaders and partners.
Kibo is a faith-inspired nonprofit organization that partners with East Africans to pursue local solutions for poverty and injustice to help communities flourish. In what follows, we briefly describe how this mission is sustained through the why, what, and how of the Kibo Way.
The Kibo Why
More than just an organization with projects, Kibo is a network of friendships that started between a small group of Ugandans and Americans in the mid-1990s and that now includes a wide, expanding community. These friendships motivate Kibo’s efforts to address poverty and injustice in African communities.*
Kibo is not a religious organization in the sense of being governed by a larger religious community or institution. As such, Kibo works without favoritism or proselytizing agendas, and values collaboration with any religious, cultural, or political communities with overlapping goals. At the same time, Kibo’s founders and leaders are inspired by Christian faith. This includes convictions that a good and loving God values friendship, wants everyone to flourish, and invites all to participate in the work of repairing the world.† The Kibo Way also draws on notions of the sacredness and abundance of creation, the dignity and creativity of all people, and the active anticipation of a good future.◊ This is why Kibo is described as “faith-inspired.”
The Kibo What
Kibo pursues what can be described as asset-based, holistic, sustainable community development. Each of those terms is important for understanding the Kibo Way:
Asset-Based: Kibo does not assume that poor communities are needy in the sense that they are merely dependent on outsiders to address their problems. Instead, Kibo assumes they have abundant cultural, intellectual, and material assets, even if often unrecognized and underdeveloped. Kibo, therefore, empowers communities to identify and mobilize those assets in creative ways.
Asset-based models of development contrast with needs-based, deficiency models, which assume that poor communities lack the basic resources needed to address their problems and require the intervention of outside resources, technology, and expertise. For Kibo, the asset principle is more of a posture than a rule. Kibo incorporates outside resources when appropriate and is attentive to what can be learned from other contexts, but Kibo’s success relies primarily on the wisdom of its African leaders and partners. Outside contributions — such as those of our American partners — are highly valued but play supporting rather than leading roles.
Holistic: Kibo gives holistic attention to the physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of both human suffering and community flourishing.
The Kibo Way understands poverty in holistic terms (e.g., not merely a lack of financial resources) and pursues holistic development (e.g., multilayered problems require multilayered solutions). While addressing single isolated problems may be quicker and more efficient in business terms (e.g., a single problem, like a lack of clean water, is addressed with a single solution, like drilling a new well), this often ignores other issues that can render the “solution” ineffective (e.g., contaminated water containers or other unhygienic conditions or behaviors), or even create new problems (e.g., community disputes about the water source related to land, clan, culture, and religion).
Sustainable: Kibo pursues development through long-term cultural participation, education, and reconciliation efforts that produce lasting and locally maintainable results.
“Sustainability” is a buzz-word these days and can mean different things. Kibo uses it for development that is not overly dependent on others and addresses current problems without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. It is important to note that this kind of sustainability relies on relative levels of societal stability. As such, the Kibo Way is not designed for contexts of acute crisis, civil unrest, or dislocation which may require special interventions. In addition, Kibo does not address problems on a mass scale as other organizations do (e.g., MANA International, which started under Kibo, seeks to address worldwide malnutrition in children). While many different efforts are needed, the Kibo Way is distinct in fostering deep levels of local sustainability and holistic community flourishing that politics and top-down aid programs are not equipped to address.
Community: Kibo seeks the well-being of whole communities, requiring cooperation of all stakeholders and distributing responsibilities and the benefits of success.
Kibo’s work facilitates full participation of all local stakeholders, including government officials, cultural and religious leaders, men, women, elders, and children. Such participation fosters local accountability and gives credit for success to the whole community rather than to a few leaders or outside philanthropists.
The Kibo How
Kibo’s work is made possible through the following priorities and practices:
Good Questions over Imported Solutions: Kibo is not a charity that provides answers but a network of friends that helps communities ask good questions, interrogate challenges, and imagine solutions. This is a slower, more organic process that often challenges industry expectations of efficiency, but it also produces more locally appropriate solutions and deeper community engagement and ownership.
Root Causes over Secondary Symptoms: By resisting quick and one-dimensional solutions, Kibo addresses the “ecosystems of poverty” and root causes of suffering.
Community Lift over Individual Rescue: Kibo seeks not merely to help a few individuals beat the odds but to help entire communities change the odds.
Sometimes individuals need to be rescued from adverse situations and relocated into safer and usually temporary environments (e.g., rehabilitation centers, orphanages, protection agencies, or refugee camps). As important as those efforts are, they often do not address the adverse situations themselves that continue to affect the unrescued majority.
Interdependence over (In)Dependence: Avoiding both unhealthy dependency and isolating self-reliance, Kibo values interdependence guided by local leadership. Kibo’s African and non-African leaders resemble dance partners: Both are on the dance floor contributing skills and resources and, while we occasionally step on each other’s toes, success relies on Africans leading and non-Africans following.