The first Akili community emerged as a testament to the power of community empowerment, stemming from a church educational community empowerment program implemented in Kangema, Central Kenya. Reflecting on the inception of this transformative journey, a member of this community fondly recalls the inaugural Saturday School:

“We learned how to grow a big harvest from a tiny vegetable garden. Really amazing.”

The Akili community, through this community empowerment program, underwent a remarkable transformation, progressing from a scarcity of kitchen gardens in most households to an abundance so significant that surplus produce could be shared and preserved for the entire year in dried form.

Their efforts in enhancing agricultural practices extended to livestock management, where they transitioned from struggling to provide sufficient nourishment for their cows to efficiently cultivating Napier grass. With impressive efficiency, they were able to harvest enough Napier grass from just three meters of rows to sustain a cow for a day.

First Akili Community

Healthy cows feeding on grass

In addressing food deficiencies, the first Akili community adopted innovative methods, such as cultivating yams in box-like holes of one cubic meter dug into the ground. This resulted in yields exceeding 100 kilograms, enough to sustain a family for an entire month and be sold for additional income.

Their achievements did not go unnoticed. From being an obscure rural community in Central Kenya, they emerged as leaders, sought after to share their expertise. Their influence extended as far as Kisii in Western Kenya, where they were enlisted to train others. Furthermore, their exceptional accomplishments were recognized locally, winning first prize in their administrative division’s Agricultural Show for several consecutive years.

Akili First Community

Happy farmers after winning their award

Lucy Meru, or Mama Gichomo, as she is addressed by her friends and neighbors, remembers: 

“We had an opportunity to participate in the agricultural show where our products were showcased along with other agricultural products such as chapati nduma, chapati pumpkin, cassava cake, nduma cake, and natural yogurts and fireless cooker.”

More than 10 years later, the seeds of community empowerment have blossomed, resulting in the establishment of over 300 Akili communities spread across Nyeri, Nyandarua, Laikipia, and the Mt. Kenya region. These communities are united in their pursuit of learning and growing together, fostering holistic improvements to their way of life.

What Inspired the Concept of the Akili Community?

Akili‘s business model, geared towards community empowerment, operates exclusively with registered groups rather than individuals. In rural settings, where robust social bonds prevail, leveraging these ties for economic empowerment embodies the essence of the Akili Way. Through an ecosystem approach, Akili Communities—registered entities acknowledged by both government and local community leadership—foster trust and solidarity among members, enabling collective progress and shared prosperity.

Akili Communities were inspired by the Nyumba Kumi concept, after the founder, Mr Haron Wachira, was inspired by the implementation of the concept in Rwanda. The Nyumba Kumi concept was designed as a strategy of anchoring Community Policing at the household level or any other generic cluster. These households can be in a residential court, in an estate, a block of houses, a manyatta, a street, community of interest, a gated community, a village or a bulla.

This mechanism helps to drive accountability in the carrying out of required tasks and the adherence to set regulations necessary in maintaining the entire value chain model, as each contracted registered group is required to hold regular meetings, communicate challenges in implementing their activities, etc.

 First Akili Community

Akili Farmer Community holding a meeting

Accountability trickles upwards to the leaders through open communication systems. When the community faces a challenge, a solution is deliberated by the leaders and offered back to the community to ensure a cyclic sense of value addition, improvement, and maintenance epitomizing the spirit of community empowerment.

What Does This Look Like Practically?

Akili constantly contextualizes and improves its responses to opportunities and needs in registered communities, with one overarching goal: holistic improvement of the lives of members and the communities they live in. This is the meaning of holistic community empowerment. As a result, every community’s journey is unique, and the importance of partnerships cannot be overstated.

For beekeeping groups, this means providing access to loans for purchasing beehives and expanding and improving existing beekeeping enterprises. 

Akili Group Bee Keeping Project

Akili Group Community Support Officer, Catherine Njoki, distributing Akili Langstroth beehives to farmers

For coffee-growing groups, it involves making improvements at every stage of the value chain to deliver a higher quality, niche crop that commands a higher market value.

For dairy farmers, Akili Group introduces Animal Feed Boosters tailored specifically to improve milk production and quality, leading to a tangible impact on your household income from milk sales. 

These are just a few examples of community empowerment among many others, all of which highlight the need for adaptability, learning, and responsiveness in order to address the diverse needs of new Akili communities, while keeping holistic development as the ultimate goal.

The challenges faced by rural Kenya are too complex for any single organization to tackle alone. Through an ecosystem approach, Akili Group is making a difference in rural farming communities, partnering with various stakeholders in a way that benefits all participants and towards a shared goal.

Ecosystems create and serve communities, harnessing their creativity and intelligence to address larger societal problems that no individual organization can solve alone. An ecosystem-oriented approach to problem-solving involves collective investment of time, capital, and skills from all participants towards a shared goal. 

Akili’s approach exemplifies this collaborative approach, driving positive change in rural communities and paving the way for holistic and sustainable community development.