The year was 2004 and Martin Kieti had a significant challenge on his hands.
As the new chief executive officer of Kenya Union of the Blind, Kieti, who has low vision, was charged with turning things around at the struggling organization. He knew it wouldn't be easy.
“I had just taken the job a couple of months before,” said Kieti. “When I came in we had no programs running, had no income from partners – had nothing really going on.”
Thankfully for Kieti, the Institutional Development Program (IDP) stepped in with an advocacy grant – providing the agency with a desperately needed financial shot in the arm.
“IDP was the first to come in and say, ‘We can help you bring your organization back to life,’” said Kieti. “As a result we did some very successful grassroots advocacy work, leading to new partners coming in.”
Kieti considers that support from the IDP a turning point in the revival of Kenya Union of the Blind. And one year later, in 2005, Kieti would experience a revival of his own after attending a management course sponsored by the IDP. “As a person I was totally transformed,” he said.
20 million people
Empowering Africa’s more than 20 million people who are blind or visually impaired and improving the organizations that support them – that’s the mission of the IDP, which Perkins and other international partners including the World Blind Union helped found in 1990.
The work of the IDP is carried out through training and technical support, small grants, consultancy, mentoring programs and collaborative events like the popular Africa Forum conference.
Today Kieti works as the IDP program coordinator, a leadership position he assumed in 2010.
“The IDP mission is to empower people who are blind in Africa,” he said. “We are building our own self-advocacy skills as well as building the capacity of organizations that provide services to us. By improving services for people who are blind we are ensuring we have the means to empower ourselves.”
The work of the IDP is multifaceted and extends across the continent of Africa – from Sierra Leone to Mozambique and beyond. The IDP is currently collaborating directly with governments and national organizations of the blind in a dozen countries. A recent Young Leaders Camp in South Africa, a multi-year partnership with university students in Nigeria and training and technical assistance in Ghana and Burkina Faso are just a few examples.
“Our programs have helped people to great heights,” said Kieti. “We’ve also seen organizations grow in countries like Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. They have taken serious steps toward strengthening their organizations. That is success.”
IDP’s two goals
It all started with a vision. Dr. W. Aubrey Webson is credited with spearheading the IDP in its infancy and overseeing its early success. Before assuming his current role as director of Perkins International in 2010, Webson served for more than 15 years as IDP program coordinator. Initially Webson, who is blind, had two goals in mind.
The first was to give Africans who are blind the tools necessary to become leaders and advocates for social change. The second was to ensure organizations of the blind were professionally managed and equipped to expand the reach of their services and programs.
Webson is proud of all the IDP has accomplished, though he remains focused on the future.
“It is difficult to say in a development program that you have surpassed your goals because development is a continuum – you always reach for more,” said Webson. “But we are pleased that the process we introduced is working and has been accepted by the people of Africa.”
A personal transformation
Kieti acquired a deeper understanding of what the IDP was about in 2005 when he attended the Senior Management Institute (SMI). He left the seven-week course a changed man.
“I got a new way of looking at things,” said Kieti. “The philosophy of IDP seeks to empower people to be able to make choices and to think and act much more independently. People are introduced to transformational thinking – thinking that transforms you and thinking that helps you transform society.”
Hosted in South Africa by the IDP every two to three years, the SMI is an academic program for directors and senior managers who work at organizations of the blind and visually impaired.
Participants take part in seminars, workshops, research projects and field placements at agencies. They also develop a personal project to implement upon returning home.
For Kieti that project was working to strengthen grassroots advocacy on blindness issues in Kenya. He went on to secure a three-year grant – which at the time servedas a major funding source for Kenya Union of the Blind – and used it to educate various stakeholders in Kenya about disability rights.
“We achieved lots of success – especially with opening up participation on the part of local (government) authorities,” said Kieti.
In 2008 Kenya Union of the Blind sent two employees and one board member to the SMI. The resulting impact on the organization was profound.
“When they came back they were energized like torpedoes,” said Kieti. “From there the organization made a 360-degree turn. They brought a totally new outlook to life. They came back with their own initiatives, which we put into play.”
Among those initiatives: expanded advocacy work to empower people with visual impairments and a new effort to increase access to technology in classrooms for students who are blind.
Spirit of collaboration
Nearly 25 years after its founding, the impact of the IDP can be seen in its most popular event, Africa Forum, which is held every three years. The 6th Africa Forum takes place this October in Kampala, Uganda.
Since its inception in 1996, the forum has grown from a gathering of 75 people to become the largest conference on blindness in Africa. As many as 500 participants are expected to be on hand in Kampala to take part in lectures, seminars, networking events and the TechShare Africa technology exhibit.
“The forum has arrived – it has taken root in Africa,” said Kieti. “The forum has proven its importance in the continent’s blindness (community), demonstrating that it can finance itself and continue to grow.”
For John Price, international manager of business development at Perkins Products, the Africa Forum is a unique chance for stakeholders from all over the world to make lasting connections.
“There’s a vibe of openness because everyone you meet is important in some way back in their home country, whether they’re the head of a school or an association for the blind or whether they’re a government minister,” said Price, who attended Africa Forum 2011 in Ghana. “It’s really electric because there’s so much stuff going on. No matter who you are and what you’re looking for, there’s something for you there.”
The theme of the upcoming Africa Forum is “Beyond 2015: Delivering on the Agenda for Persons with Visual Impairment in Africa.”
For Kieti, that theme represents an opportunity to look ahead at future challenges.
“We need to have a clear agenda and determine how we will deliver it for our clientele,” he said. “The end result will be an empowered blind community.”
6TH AFRICA FORUM
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Dates: October 2015
Theme: Delivering on the Agenda for Persons with Visual Impairment in Africa