Reflections from the VOICE INDABA in Nairobi, Kenya- Part 2

By Nafula Wafula

This past January, VOICE held a linking and learning INDABA in Nairobi, provoking global learning from innovation grantees, linking and learning teams and other stakeholders to reflect on the first set of Innovate and Learn grants and experiences. The participants were diverse in both geography and issue and it was an eye-opening week of awareness raising for all. The $40million VOICE program is part of a $1 billion advocacy fund from the Dutch government.

Joining forces to leave no one behind

A topic of interest was the idea of inclusion. While leaving no one behind was the first sentence in MDGs, we (all sectors of development) emphasized easy wins and low-hanging fruit. We didn’t do the hard work of finding the truly disenfranchised, the poorest of the poor, and the forgotten. In this SDG phase, our commitment to real inclusion must address the left behind of the left behind first. We must not only find the bushman in the Kalahari but take the time to understand his language and ensure he understands ours.

Language that shares power

Being conscious of our responsibilities in this human and development processes requires a consciousness towards language that shifts power in one direction or other. Language is what creates connections to those near and far from us — othering’, them and us. Injustice continues because we feel it has nothing to do with ‘me’.

At this meeting, language around beneficiaries and grantees(I grant you this) faded away in preference for partners, which does not have a funding innuendo. Partners Work together towards a common cause and are jointly responsible for its success or failure; if the program fails, we are all responsible for the failure and should have seen it early and re-programmed. Consequently, persons with disabilities is preferable to disabled persons; the abled are the ones who create disabling environments such as building stairs rather than a ramp.

How do we accept our common humanity?

But it’s not just language. When giving back power, we must be careful about how we use people’s time and energy. We must respect privacy; for example, when can we demonstrate the concerns of a stigmatized community without compromising their safety and security? We must also be aware of the power in consent; just because someone has given you consent doesn’t mean it’s been given eternally. Go back and ensure that you are authorised to share their story once more.

While we are saying don’t get left behind, those disenfranchised groups are saying, we are not getting left behind!

Our language must also be aware of rights holders and duty bearers. Therefore, we refer to senior citizens rather than the elderly and youth ratherthan juveniles. Speaking of the old and young, while the SDG’s declare the right to meaningful work for all, why doesn’t the 82-year-old have the same right to the job as another citizen (if the recruitment is competitive and inclusive)? Intergenerational workspaces are something to be encouraged; senior citizens have soft power and experience which when merged with the energy and innovation of the young people may solve a few world problems.