OCA Impact Stories: Safe Spaces

Above: OCA Senior Analyst, Cynthia Mwaura at the Safe Spaces Hydroponic Urban Farm

I’ve spent time volunteering in low-income areas in the past, so when I found out that I was going to carry out a placement in Kariobangi (a ‘slum’ in Nairobi) with the inspiring founder Peninah Musyimi, I was especially excited!

Peninah grew up in Mathare slums and despite the numerous challenges that she faced as a child, she managed to get a basketball scholarship, and made it to university where she studied Law with a focus on domestic violence. She strongly wanted to give back and founded Safe Spaces, a community-based organization (CBO) geared towards helping young girls and women from Nairobi slum areas (Mathare, Kayole, Kariobangi and Dandora) find safety and develop skills that will enable them to escape poverty, violence, and exclusion.

Safe Spaces directly supports >1,200 girls per year (indirectly reaching >5000 individuals) through various programs including basketball, photography, IT, mechanics, and entrepreneurial skills supported by a network of private and institutional donors.

Peninah didn’t want to stop there – in 2019, she introduced hydroponic urban farming to Safe Spaces beginning with four farms (one commercial farm and three community farms) in Eastleigh, to create a sustainable source of revenue for the CBO while also training women to become micro-entrepreneurs and improve nutrition among households, but she didn’t know how to turn the farms into a profitable business.

That’s where Arcadia came in – I joined the team in Kariobangi for a 6-month placement and worked with them to develop a business plan and operating budget for the farm while also setting up their accounting software and training their team on its use. In addition, I supported the organization in grant application and trained the staff on grant writing and communication as part of the team development program.

I really felt like one of the family, given how tight-knit the team is, but I also felt I was able to bring skills they couldn’t otherwise access – how to create a detailed financial plan, how to manage accounts through Quickbooks, and link this to a strategy the team could follow to realize their revenue ambitions. I worked closely with the organization’s board member and senior management team to write and apply for a grant as well as developing template information that can be used for future grant applications.  Some of this I did myself, putting in place various systems and tools, but every step of the way I worked closely with their team, training nine members and coaching them to understand the business logic of their operations and own a strategy on how to grow through the business plan that we co-created.

Since completing my placement, the Safe Spaces team adopted the strategy I helped develop and have now focused on 6 crops, with a clear operational efficiency goal to reach their target profitability. Once they achieve this goal, we expect that they will be able to support and improve nutrition for over 1,000 households in Mathare. I’m really proud that I played a part in helping them move towards this goal.

OCA Senior Analyst, Cynthia Mwaura

For more on Arcadia, click here.