Sustaining success: Pauline Wambeti’s insights from a responsible, community-based transition

June 15, 2024
Author: Jasmine Kato-Naughton, Pauline Wambeti

The SAS+ Advisory Group provides advice on and support for influencing efforts for SAS+. They lend their specific expertise and extensive experience to strengthen SAS+ and ensure it incorporates a myriad of perspectives. Since they are so integral to our work, we want to share their valuable knowledge with you. 

Pauline Wambeti is a member of the SAS+ Advisory Group and Managing Director of Nuru Kenya, where she has worked since 2013.

Nuru Kenya is a local non-governmental organization that aims to reduce poverty in rural Kenya. Through community development and agribusiness initiatives, they support communities to escape generational cycles of extreme poverty.

Pauline started out as a social worker. “That was the training that launched me in community development.” 

She completed her studies and worked with various communities around the country. Her experience had her “working with marginalized groups to transition them into income generating activities.” Her pull to community has always been clear:

“I worked in the banking sector […] and I worked with smallholder farmers at that time to support them to access financing for their farming activities. And I enjoyed my work. Working in the community is very interesting. You get challenged to think on your feet.”

“You have a lot of job satisfaction when you transition and transform the community. So I continued to advance my career and pursue that interest in working with the community. I tried a short stint at the United Nations, but I felt bored, and that’s why I decided to just be at the grassroots where the action is.”

When Nuru was first conceived in 2008, the vision was for their interventions to transition from being led by expatriates, to being led by local teams. Nuru Kenya’s transition to being locally led had been set for 2013, when Pauline first joined. However, the original plan for transition was delayed, owing to what Pauline describes as a “cocktail of issues”:

“There was severe drought […], their crops were attacked by maize lethal necrosis disease, and there was the fall armyworm […]”

Despite there usually being enough food, and food insecurity a “thing of the past,” these shocks added up to a difficult famine. Government subsidies that Nuru was relying on for the transition were stopped.

“So the donor felt that leaving the community at such a disadvantaged time would not go well. And they needed to support the team that was taking over to design better solutions so that in case such shocks occur again, the team would be, and the community would be, better prepared.”

These delays, however, led to some important changes in the planned transition.

“So the team left in 2015, and this was a phased transition, because the initial plan was to just exit the entire team at once, but then we realized that we needed a phased approach so that we could be able to manage the process better.”

In 2018, Nuru Kenya was included as a case study in the first phase of Stopping as Success (SAS). From the delays and challenges that Nuru Kenya faced also came some important lessons about the transition process.

“By the time we were being profiled, we were now at the last stages of the physical exit of the expatriate team. And so when the SAS team came, they supported us to reflect on what had transpired so far. […] it helped us to really take stock of the process of transition from the expatriate team to the local team.”

“We also realized, even as you are transitioning from the international team to the local team, we also had a responsibility to the communities that we were working with, especially because we had the vision of having farmer-led organizations that are able to operate on their own. And so we now also realized we needed to actually invest in learning more about how to transition responsibly and not just stop at the international exit, but also challenge ourselves as the local teams to ensure we transition our interventions and support to the local communities in a responsible manner so that we don’t create that dependency that has usually been the disadvantage to donor funding.”

Today, Nuru Kenya and Nuru International’s relationship continues to evolve post-exit. Together, they have created an advisory group to support a phased approach to transition. In practice, though funding from Nuru International is winding down, support continues where it is needed, with a clear mandate to transition responsibilities and functions to Nuru Kenya.

“They continue to support us with expertise on a needed basis when we need monitoring and evaluation, especially publicity, website management, or communication – things that we are continuing to build in our team. And because they were doing it for us, they were doing it so well. But now they are slowly transitioning those functions to us, we are now continuing to set it up with their support. The fundraising bit is also something they’re continuing to mentor us on so that we are able to now fundraise on our own.”

“[Through the Nuru Advisory Group] we come together to share experiences and look at some of the ways in which we can improve on our operations. Nuru is a local NGO, so we have a local board that is providing oversight for our operations.”

Pauline’s experiences during the Nuru Transition have been instrumental to her vision for Stopping As Success. In particular, she points to the fact that transition does not end when the expatriate team leaves. Being the local NGO in the aftermath comes with its own set of challenges

“We realized we are also required to transition at our own level in some way. So as much as we were having a phased approach from the international organization to the local organization, we also have a responsibility because now the community stops seeing the INGO as the donor and starts seeing the local NGO as the donor.”

“So how do we solve this more sustainably so that they are able to support themselves? And we can now change our generations. […] We don’t want to wait for others to come and help us change when we’ve already learned some of the concepts that we need to apply in order to change our generation.”

“Sharing now such experiences at the [SAS+] Advisory Group is going to be key because we’ve seen some of the interventions fail because there’s that lack of trust.”

But the journey doesn’t stop there. Looking to the future, Pauline believes that the tools and lessons learned from Nuru Kenya’s transition and SAS+ will help others to get ahead, without having to start from scratch.

“I wish we had these resources when we were trying to figure this out early on, and I am glad that I’m part of a process that is making it easier for others to transition.

Nuru Kenya is keen to truly be a success story – an approach that Pauline has taken in her experiences with Nuru International.

“We know we will go the extra mile because we understand those issues better. So we will challenge ourselves to think more deeply about issues, and it comes like it’s natural. We will now be looking at our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, and brothers – the ones who are living through these issues.”

“Having that approach to development where you don’t strip people of their dignity, you give them a voice, you trust the process that they deliver, and they will drive that process to fruition.”

“My hope is that we shall have impacted communities and organizations out there, the tools we have made will be valuable resources, and possibly even we’d have been used to shape the transitions that are continuing to take place.”