Empowerment Over Entitlement

Our job in Kenya is simple… to empower. To give them the power or authority to do for themselves. I’m not talking about empowering our clients but to empower local leadership to change their community, country, and culture. It has taken me a long time to truly understand what my role was in helping to empower the Kenyan people. We have made a case in the past for employing local leaders in the work of CARE for AIDS and while that is one essential part, what is our role in standing with them to reach their full potential and achieve maximum impact.

  • Pray – This may seem like a cliché place to begin, but I assure you its not. I have seen just a glimpse of the darkness that our workers face on a daily basis. This is true of social workers, missionaries, pastors, and Christians in these parts of the world. They face enormous risks and endure unimaginable conditions. Most recently, one of our workers, David, defended his family against a barrage of burglars wielding machetes. The next morning, he led our team as we visited clients in their homes. If we are going to empower local leaders, we must first commit to stand with them in prayer because they are definitely under attack.
  • Encourage – I’ve always heard my dad say, “How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they are breathing!!” Our staff need to be encouraged and local leaders need to know that they have friends around the world that care about them and care about the work they are doing. We all want to know that our work matters, and our staff is no different.
  • Equip – I use the term equip with regard to knowledge and skills. Based on our background, experiences, or education, we may access to knowledge capital that those in the developing world do not. We need to share that generously, not to always prescribe a certain course of action but to empower people and organizations to lead well and make the best decisions in their context.
  • Resource – I use this term with regard to finances. The proper application of funds is essential, but it looks dramatically different for every situation. Whether the resources are for relief, rehabilitation, or development. Whether it is an investment that will produce financial returns or one that will create other social impact. Every circumstance calls for a different response, and we must use our best judgment in determining that.

On my most recent trip to Kenya, I saw our staff take a huge step in understanding how they have been empowered. They worked to put on a one-day leadership conference for the Nairobi community. Over 150 leaders from non-profits, corporations, and churches attended. Not only did the conference raise money for CARE for AIDS, but it established us as a credible organization that is lead by exceptional Kenyan leaders.

The staff decided that while our model will never be fully financially sustainable through Kenyan sources, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t contribute to the marketing and development of this great work. They resolved not to just exist to submit to the authority of our Western arm, but that they are empowered to take ownership of this organization.

This has been an exciting shift in my thinking, and I am working harder than ever to empower these incredible Kenyan leaders in such a way that will change them as leaders.

What steps are you taking to intentionally empower leaders around the world?