October 18, 2023

Unleashing Communities’ Potential: One year reflections of Maono Space

Maono Space
In today’s dynamic landscape, collaboration is not just a nicety—it’s a necessity. Silos stifle growth and innovation, and our community-based organizers, once isolated, yearned for deeper connection. This is where Maono Space has been transformational. Over the past year, by offering reliable internet, communal spaces, and an energizing community spirit, Maono has torn down walls, paving the way for a richer, more synergistic approach to grassroots movements.

A year ago, we embarked on a journey that had no map, no clear destination, and no well-trodden path to follow. We established Maono Space – a name derived from the Swahili word “Maono,” which means “vision.” Our vision? To create an empowered community of community-based mobilisers and organisers, driving change from the grassroots. To foster a space where these changemakers could connect, collaborate, and amplify their impact.

Maono Space was not designed to fit into any conventional mould. It wasn’t an innovation hub in the typical African sense, nor was it just another co-working space. The most precise descriptor we had was “we don’t know.” And what a powerful descriptor it turned out to be.

In an era where meticulous planning and strategic foresight are the gold standards, embracing the philosophy of “we don’t know” may seem counterintuitive. Yet, it was this very mindset that empowered Maono Space to transcend traditional barriers. We cultivated Maono Space in a fluid manner, deeply attuned to the evolving preferences and needs of our members. Now, it has evolved into a hub for collaboration, networking, and a hotbed for innovative ideas, all shaped by the desires and visions of community-based organisations.

Maono’s uniqueness lies in its structure, which functions as a semi-autonomous extension of the Open Institute. This distinctive setup fosters an environment where CBOs are not just mere participants but the architects of their space and activities. They have the liberty to define, redesign, and direct their initiatives in a manner that truly resonates with their community’s aspirations.

This autonomy is not just about freedom—it’s a catalyst for sustainable development. By granting CBOs the independence to self-direct, we are embedding a sense of ownership and responsibility within them. This approach ensures that initiatives are not only relevant but are also deeply ingrained in the fabric of the community, promoting long-term sustainability and growth.

Commuity Based Organizations (CBOs) Training on “Capacity Building on Budget” at the Maono Space in Kilifi.

There’s an underestimated strength in the act of granting freedom. Our experience at Maono has demonstrated that innovation doesn’t thrive under stringent guidelines but rather in the realm of unbounded possibilities. Our ethos at Maono isn’t about adhering strictly to mapped-out objectives. Instead, we believe in cultivating a space where potential isn’t boxed in but allowed to unfurl naturally, much like a flower seeking the sun without any constraints.

This hands-off approach has unlocked doors we hadn’t even seen before. By embracing a framework of flexibility, we’ve seen the Maono community evolve in rich, diverse ways. Our community-based organisations (CBOs) haven’t just adjusted to this freedom, they’ve thrived, continually redefining and enriching their spaces.

The outcome? An ever growing mix of projects, solutions, and partnerships that are not just fresh but deeply connected to the authentic needs and aspirations of each participating community. By empowering CBOs with this freedom, we’re not just endorsing creativity; we’re acknowledging the deep reservoir of insight and originality that communities inherently possess.

Hyperlocal Initiatives: The Pioneers Driving Global Progress

Central to Maono’s ethos is an unwavering conviction: true, impactful global change is birthed in the heart of local communities. Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) exemplify this truth. They can be agile and they are not hampered by a lot of bureaucracy; their profound understanding of local nuances positions them uniquely ahead of larger entities. They act swiftly, efficiently, and in a manner that’s sustainable and economically prudent.

Moreover, the essence of CBOs is deeply entrenched in the very communities they serve. This intimate connection not only fuels their passion but offers an unparalleled level of accountability. Their transformative actions are not dictated by detached policies or far-removed stakeholders; instead, they are driven by a genuine understanding of and commitment to their community’s needs. This results in authentic, long-lasting changes that resonate with the people they serve.

Pamoja girls initiative launched pamoja boys to encourage gender equity.

In the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it’s evident that local communities hold the key to global progress. The narrative of change isn’t just about large-scale initiatives; it’s also, and perhaps more importantly, about recognizing and amplifying these hyperlocal champions of transformation.

Communities at the centre of driving change

In the story of societal change, one moment stood out in Malindi: Rehema’s pioneering initiative that showed the power of civic empowerment.

Rehema Iha, an active member of Kwacha Afrika, a local Community Based Organization (CBO) connected to Maono Space in Kilifi, took the lead in facilitating civic engagement in Malindi after discovering that the Annual Development Plan (ADP) for Kilifi County was inaccessible to the public – it was very long, it was purely in English (yet the local language in Malindi is Swahili) and was only accessible at the county offices. Mobilizing various CBOs, Rehema and her team organized civic education initiatives, translated the 500-page ADP into Swahili, and utilized diverse communication methods, including town hall meetings and social media, to engage citizens within a short span of three days. The result was impressive turnouts and active participation from citizens during the public engagement meetings. Rehema’s dedication, in collaboration with CBOs and with the support of Maono, showcased the power of grassroots civic engagement, underscoring the importance of informed citizens as active contributors to community development initiatives and decision-making processes, filling the gap in accessibility to crucial development plans.

Picture a community that’s not just surviving but thriving, leading, and shaping its destiny. This isn’t just an idealistic vision—it’s a tangible reality when individuals are adequately informed, motivated, and equipped with the right tools. Empowered citizens become more than passive recipients of policies; they evolve into active stakeholders, shaping and refining the narrative of development.

CBOs moving to all 11 wards to assess the impact of the mobilization.

The primary role of community-based organizations (CBOs) is often seen as service delivery or advocacy. However, Maono understands that CBOs can be so much more. They can be bridges, translators, and amplifiers.They bridge the gap between global plans and local needs, ensuring that broad mandates are not lost in translation but are instead rendered into actionable, community-centric strategies.

Civic empowerment isn’t just part of societal change; it’s the driving force. Initiatives like Maono don’t just watch this change; they actively make it happen. In the grand narrative of societal transformation, civic empowerment is not just a chapter—it’s the underlying pulse, the driving force. And through initiatives like Maono, we are not just bearing witness to this revolution; we are actively shaping it.

Maono’s bright future

Reflecting on our past and looking to the future, we see a world of possibilities before us at Maono. The true strength of our initiative lies in our dedicated team of innovators, leaders, and grassroots champions, each contributing their expertise and passion.

The successes, strong relationships, and tangible changes we’ve experienced this past year are just the beginning of what we can achieve. Maono is more than an organization; it’s a collaborative vessel driven by ambition.

Our journey, thus far, has been like sailing the open sea, guided by the stars. But here’s the beauty of it: each time we navigate towards a star, a new one appears, leading us to uncharted territories . Each milestone we reach only reveals more opportunities for growth and impact. This voyage we’ve undertaken is not bound by a predetermined destination. Instead, it’s a continuous exploration where every achievement is a stepping stone to a larger dream, every challenge an opportunity, and every collaboration a chance to magnify our impact.

Maono, in its essence, is more than an organization. It’s a vessel, powered by the dual engines of collaboration and ambition.

As we take a moment to appreciate our progress, we are also preparing for the future with renewed energy. Though Maono’s journey is still in its early stages, ahead lies an ocean of opportunities, waiting to be harnessed, and a promising future, ready to be shaped.

Share this post:

Discover more articles