Make a Difference. Nonprofits should be flexible enough to complete short-term goals quickly, while maintaining their focus on solving big problems. Think big, while moving strategically. Poverty will not be solved overnight, but every student who graduates brings us one step closer to our goal.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bradley Broder and Dominic Muasya.
Bradley Broder and Dominic Muasya are the co-founders of the Kenya Education Fund (KEF). Broder and Muasya started Kenya Education Fund as a means of supporting the children they befriended in Kenya, while Broder served in the U.S. Peace Corps for two years. Broder’s deep personal connection to Kenya led to a life-long mission of keeping Kenyan youth in school to better develop the nation’s own human capital and reduced dependence on foreign aid.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Without question, the personal experience that most shaped my life was becoming a father. Professionally, living in Kenya for two years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer was also very powerful.
In the poorest regions of Kenya, young children typically live with large families in single-room homes constructed of iron-sheet, mud, and cement with limited food and no access to free education. It is estimated that 65% of Kenyan students won’t complete high school. In the case of girls who can’t afford high school, arranged marriages happen as early as age 13. It was this period in my life and my friendship and collaboration with Dominic that the idea of the KEF took shape.
Specifically in Kenya, high school is not free. Two-thirds of students will not graduate because of prohibitive school fees that exceed 1000 dollars a year. To be clear, KEF is not a school but a scholarship fund for students who come from families earning as little as two dollars a day. When Kenya closed schools closed for nine months our students did not have the luxury of learning remotely. We responded quickly by printing and distributing curriculum workbooks for over 16,000 students to learn at home, something we had never had to do before.
If you can’t donate directly, create an online scholarship fundraiser. Or you can ask your company to match your own charitable donations. Our collective effort can open the doors of education to thousands of students.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
I feel patience, determination, and flexibility have gotten me through the past fifteen years with KEF. My experience in Kenya began in 1999 with the U.S. Peace Corps and KEF was eventually founded in 2006. Building an organization working to eliminate poverty by sponsoring increased educational opportunities was a huge undertaking. But every time we can help change the fortune of a single Kenyan student, it’s well worth it.
In terms of flexibility, the way the coronavirus pandemic affected travel and in person learning put a huge strain on our operations. But it also led to important KEF innovations. It is organizations that can pivot quickly that will survive over the long run.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
The most important discovery I have made both personally and through KEF is that helping people is not always easy. When we started KEF, I was filled with good intentions and youthful idealism. We learned quickly that operating, funding, and growing a nonprofit’s real-life impact is not something that can be easily done on a volunteer-basis.
The passion to help others is not enough. In our case, working so closely with organizations and families in Kenya meant we needed to build out a team on two continents, Africa, and North America. Thankfully, we have assembled an extraordinary team in both Kenya and the U.S.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
The most important thing you can give to another individual is an education. Investing in education reduces infant mortality rates, vulnerability to exploitation, violence, crime, and poverty. In a nation where typically children’s educational journey ends before high school, we are deeply committed to extending their educational journeys beyond primary school. Since 2006, KEF has provided educational access to over 3,300 students in hundreds of high schools and currently have over 500 scholarships in our pipeline. We partner with 120 schools across Kenya directly, that’s resulted in 91% of our program participants qualifying for higher education, compared to the national average of 32%. This is a remarkable social footprint.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
While in the U.S. Peace Corps, working in a village at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro for two years, I witnessed families forced to take extraordinary steps to survive or get emergency water and food during severe drought. When I returned from my assignment, I knew there had to be a way of combating poverty without promoting an over reliance on NGOs. Our solution was to empower Kenyan children through knowledge and education.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
Thankfully, there are so many students the KEF has been able to help. In a nation where young girls, if they can’t afford to attend high school or college get married at a young age, just one of our KEF alums who stands out earned a full scholarship to Harvard University in 2012. She was the first female student from the Maasai tribe to graduate Harvard as an undergraduate. Then after completing a summer internship at the large financial firm BlackRock, she was offered a full-time position with the company. Now she is an accomplished brand and marketing executive.
Importantly she continues to embody the KEF mission and pay it forward. Since she has graduated, she’s provided financial assistance to help other students throughout Kenya. Plus, she volunteers on the board of an organization helping foreign students apply for college in the U.S.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
When giving charitably, remember to give with your head, not with your heart. Learn as much as you can about the issues and choose nonprofits that empower its participants and promote self-sufficiency. Education is the most effective way to break the poverty cycle. It improves employment options, increases lifetime earnings, overall physical and mental health, and gender equity. The second action we can take is donating your expertise. It can be as simple as volunteering as a bookkeeper, attorney, or web designer. Your skills and time can help a nonprofit direct more of its funds to programs. Third, share your passion to help students with your network and encourage them to get involved in the communities where they live. The most effective way to build a community is still at the grassroots level.
Specifically in Kenya, secondary education is not free. Two-thirds of Kenyans will not graduate high school because of prohibitive school fees. We encourage people to help provide life altering scholarships to eager students. We ask donors, be they individual, or corporate to contribute as little as 1,000 dollars a year. 4,000 dollars annually covers a four-year scholarship, room and board, and school uniform for a single scholar.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Put the mission first. Leadership changes can have a negative impact on an organization’s culture and its ability to fundraise. However, organizational turnover won’t become existential threats if donors, board members, and stakeholders are more connected to the mission. For example, since 2006, KEF joined forces with two similar organizations all while growing our donor community. KEF has succeeded in putting students and education first.
- Good intentions are not enough to effectively run a nonprofit. Philanthropy is always evolving, and we can’t rely on the lessons of the past to be successful. At KEF, we invest in people. Therefore, we encourage our leadership team to continuously take skill-building courses continuously make us more effective. Personally, I’ve taken nonprofit management courses and our board members have taken nonprofit governance courses to continuously add new tools to our work.
- A healthy organizational culture is built on transparency. Transparency shouldn’t be a buzzword discussed only at your annual meeting. Your board members and officers must always foster a culture that encourages dialogue and interactions with every stakeholder involved. This builds trust and a lasting commitment to the organization’s success.
- Make a Difference. Nonprofits should be flexible enough to complete short-term goals quickly, while maintaining their focus on solving big problems. Think big, while moving strategically. Poverty will not be solved overnight, but every student who graduates brings us one step closer to our goal.
- Be efficient. A nonprofit worth its salt will avoid programs that perpetuate or create dependency.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
Like many organizations, KEF reimagined some of our programing and fundraising events during the pandemic. Traditionally, we provide high school boarding scholarships to Kenyan students who come from families that make as little as two dollars a day, so when schools closed for nine months in Kenya our students did not have the luxury of learning remotely. We responded quickly by printing and distributing curriculum workbooks for over 16,000 students to learn at home, something we had never had to do before.
When schools in Kenya reopened, our students hit the ground running. For me, success is, and always has been, about providing educational support to students in Kenya who can’t afford to go to school, the very founding mission of our organization.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
Visiting our students and alumni in Kenya absolutely recharges my batteries and provides much needed perspective on whatever problems I might be facing, either professionally or personally. Travel overseas may be limited, but the amazing attitude and love of education from our students is unmatched and transcends geography.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Our website is www.kenyaeducationfund.org and interested readers can follow and like us on our social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I would strongly encourage those who want to learn more and view and get an up-close look of KEF, view our 2021 Virtual Tour of Kenya on YouTube.
There you can view some of our schools, visit the home and villages of some of our scholarship recipients, and hear first hear first-hand accounts from students, alumni, and their families.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.