Entries by Stella Odhiambo


Great in theory, hard in practice: the story of systems change

Great in theory, hard in practice: the story of systems change

Philanthropic foundations face common challenges in adopting systems change approaches; they have an opportunity to learn faster by learning together.

Every year philanthropic foundations spend billions of dollars to have an impact on complex issues related to food, climate, nature, poverty, health, peace and nutrition. And yet, despite much positive impact, the underlying causes of these issues persist.

Systems change approaches that are built to work with complexity, interdependence, emergence and the ever-present power dynamics that create inequality offer a way for foundations to tackle the underlying causes of the problems they care about. And consequently, many leading organisations are exploring and adopting them.

Each philanthropic organisation that embraces systems change is on a learning journey. They are codifying new language, analysis frameworks, and leadership forms. As we have worked with a growing body of philanthropists, we have come to recognise some common struggles, and the opportunity to learn faster by learning together.

Challenges shared by philanthropies that practice systems change

Strategic focus: Funding portfolios are often delineated by technical themes such as agriculture, gender, climate, or livelihoods. Yet these are entangled in the real world. How might philanthropic organisations support interventions layered together to achieve transformative impact? How can they set strategic boundaries that ensure discrete work delivers impact within indiscrete systems?

Working with grantees: Grant recipients often seek immediate impact on an issue and can lack the tools and motives to work on underlying conditions. How can philanthropies guide and support them in pursuit of systems change?

Power: Power inequalities underpin most systemic issues. How can philanthropies apply their funds in ways that rebalance these? How can they harness or even cede their high-level influence in ways that elevate the disenfranchised?

Collaboration: System change can take decades, yet funding cycles are measured in years. How can philanthropies structure collaboration that ensures support beyond their individual timeframes and mandates? How can they operate as an ecosystem in ways that catalyse rather than capture impact?

Monitoring, evaluation and learning: System change embraces emergence, experimentation, and agility. So, how can MEL focus on dynamically improving impact more than doggedly proving impact?

The response to each of these challenges may be different for different foundations, but there is much that they can learn from one another.

If we are going to realise the speed scale and lasting impact that systems change approaches offer – then we need to learn fast and we need to learn together.



Wasafiri’s License to Lead programme: Investing in tomorrow’s leaders

Wasafiri’s License to Lead programme: Investing in tomorrow’s leaders

We celebrate Aisha Adan, the inaugural candidate in the License to Lead programme, a key initiative fostering leadership development

Stella Odhiambo

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At Wasafiri, we believe in the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion to drive positive change. Our commitment to a more diverse generation of leaders led us to recently launch the ‘License to Lead’ (L2L) programme as a pivotal component of our DEI agenda.

The programme is a five-year commitment aimed at nurturing and growing a diverse pool of leaders within Wasafiri, with a particular focus on our African and Africa-based staff. Recognising the need for more leadership and management development opportunities, we are dedicated to correcting this imbalance through targeted investment in everyone’s professional growth.

Goals and benefits

The L2L goals and benefits reflect our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion:

  1. Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion: By providing leadership opportunities to underrepresented groups, we aim to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment internally as well as with our clients, partners, and the communities we serve.
  1. Knowledge transfer and skill building: The programme will focus on transferring institutional knowledge and building leadership skills among emerging leaders, ensuring a robust leadership pipeline.
  1. Promoting responsibility and participatory decision-making: We strive to have participants take on more significant roles in decision-making processes, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility.
  1. Strengthening skills for managing complexity and diversity: In a rapidly changing business landscape, the programme equips participants with the skills needed to navigate complexity and embrace diversity.
  1. Fostering motivation and employee engagement: By investing in our employees’ professional development, we aim to enhance motivation and overall employee engagement.

Our inaugral candidate, Aisha Adan

Aisha Adan facilitating a workshop in Mombasa, Kenya

We are thrilled to announce Aisha Adan as the inaugural participant in the License to Lead programme for 2023/24. Aisha’s selection is a testament to her outstanding contributions and potential within the organisation.

As Wasafiri Managing Director Alex Rees rightly puts it, “Aisha is a key part of our future. I’ve no doubt she will make the most of the opportunity as she leans in as the inaugural winner of the License to Lead investment.”

On her win Aisha says, “This was not only incredibly gratifying but also marked a truly fulfilling milestone in my professional journey. I am eagerly looking forward to immersing myself in the L2L programme. Looking ahead, I believe that this will be a transformative journey and promises to shape  my trajectory towards impactful leadership within and beyond Wasafiri.”

As Aisha embarks on this journey, we look forward to witnessing the positive impact of the License to Lead programme on her professional growth and the broader Wasafiri community. Her success sets the stage for future leaders to emerge, contributing to a more inclusive and dynamic leadership landscape within our organisation.

L2L is not just an investment in one person, but a commitment to shaping the future we want at Wasafiri.

Congratulations, Aisha, and here’s to a brighter, more inclusive tomorrow.

Who is Aisha Adan? Click below to read more.



Wasafiri is looking for a Research and Learning Systems Lead

Wasafiri is looking for a Research and Learning Systems Lead

Join our team!

We are looking for a Research and Learning Systems Lead to lead research and MLE in thematic areas such as peace/stabilisation, inclusion, food, climate and nature working with governments, implementing organisations and businesses, leading philanthropic and bilateral funders, African and global organisations, and knowledge partners.

See the full description here.

How to apply

  1. Submit the cover letter and CV to [email protected]
  2. The CV should be no longer than 3 pages
  3. Use the subject heading: Application – Research and Learning Systems Lead
  4. Application deadline: 15th December 2023

Good luck!




African Food Fellowship hosts 2nd annual Kenya festival

African Food Fellowship hosts 2nd annual Kenya festival

The African Food Fellowship held the second edition of the annual Kenya Transform Food Festival on 3 November 2023.

Director Joost Guijt gives the keynote address during the festival

The festival brought together food systems innovators, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and decision-makers working across government, private sector, civil society, and community groups.  It explored and raised the profile of existing and emerging issues in Kenya’s food systems, focusing on the impact areas of agrifinance, horticulture, and aquaculture.

Director Joost Guijt urged guests to keep hope alive in the face of big challenges such as climate change, malnutrition, and poverty facing the food and agriculture sector today.

Dean Brenda Mareri welcomes guests to the festival

Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead Brenda Mareri said the festival provides a great platform for different people to connect, and hopefully collaborate.

“What makes the Transform Food festival special is the diversity and caliber of food systems practitioners who spend the day with us, sharing their work and ideas. We hope that the festival can be a launching pad for exciting innovations and projects designed for impactful action on the ground,” she said.

Fellow Geoffrey Rono with the African Food Fellowship deputy director Alex Rees

Fellow Mary Maina facilitates a discussion about how to apply foresight methodologies in food systems

Guests participated in discussions about collaborative leadership, and explored tools such as the foresight methodology that could help to future-proof their work.

Gregory Kimani (centre) winner of the Kenya Food Systems Leadership Award 2023 with Director Joost Guijt and Dean Brenda Mareri

The highlight of the festival was the annual Kenya Food Systems Leadership Award which is given to a Fellow who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and impact in their work.

This year’s award winner, Fellow Gregory Kimani, is the founder of City Shamba, an urban farming initiative teaching people in cities how to grow their own food. He has set up a model farm at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi where more than 1800 people so far received knowledge and skills on how to grow vegetables using very little land and water and have set up their own kitchen gardens. Gregory also supplies the hospital with vegetables to supplement its patients’ nutrition needs.

First runners-up Mutuma Muriuki receives his certificate

Mutuma Muriuki was named the first runner-up. His project focuses on utilising biochar biofertilizer from organic waste to rehabilitate, recycle, and enhance soil quality. He has seen farmers’ yields increase by 50% after using biochar.

Second runner-up Dorah Momanyi, the founder of iPoP Africa, owns an agri-business that reclaims the sovereignty of indigenous grains such as pearl millet, sorghum, and brown rice by transforming them into modern snacks and breakfast cereals. 



Navigating the water-energy-food nexus

Navigating the water-energy-food nexus

Water, energy, and food are interconnected systems - we need to manage them in this way

While doing my weekly grocery shopping, my thoughts began to drift once I got to the produce aisle. As I reached for a plump avocado (my favourite), I thought: do I truly understand the journey this fruit has taken to get to my local supermarket? Was it sustainably grown? How much water was required to nurture its growth? And what about the energy consumed during its transportation? And the people involved in the production?

In that moment, I was grappling with a much larger issue than simply selecting a piece of fruit. I was confronting a web of interconnected systems known as the water-energy-food nexus.

According to the UN and others, water, food, and energy form a relationship at the heart of sustainable development.

Together they are tied to environmental sustainability, economic growth, and human health and decisions made in one realm can have profound effects on the others. Yet they are often managed in disconnected ways. This leads to policies and practices that do not tackle the complexity of the issue, but advance one system at the cost of others.

Scarcity as an opportunity

In a world where resources are limited and population pressures increase, scarcity is the new normal. This speeds up the move toward a new way of doing things, where one sector can’t only benefit a small, specific group of people anymore. The food sector cannot just feed people; it needs to nourish them, support their health, and delivering eco-system services too. 

Similarly, the energy sector must also contribute to social and economic inclusion, and not just support the industrial growth of a country. The inescapable reality of having to do more with less can represent an opportunity to break silos and force conversations across sectors and systems.

It is complex, but change is attainable

To make things even more complex, here are more boxes to check; our food must come from regenerative and circular practices, energy should be renewable, and water managed sustainably. To withstand current and future pressures, governments must increasingly balance the needs of people, nature, and the economy.

Despite the obvious benefits of strengthening the nexus between water, food, and energy, the multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches required often feel overwhelming. Cross-sectoral collaboration is essential if we are to achieve a just transition in our food systems.

Organising for collaboration

When governments, businesses, academia, communities, and individuals come together and share knowledge, resources, and best practice, sustainable policies ensue.

An excellent example is the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) program in Kenya. WSUP collaborates with local governments, utilities, and civil society organisations to enhance water and sanitation services in low-income urban areas. Through these partnerships, WSUP tailors solutions to each community’s unique challenges. 

The Nairobi City County Food System Strategy on the other hand, plays a pivotal role as a convener. By bringing together civil society, private sector entities, and various government agencies, this initiative addresses the pressing challenges of sustainably feeding a rapidly growing urban population.

Incentives can shift behaviour

Ever wondered why organisations have teams that strongly resemble the funding lines of their donors? And why doesn’t cross-sectoral collaboration happen more often? Understanding how incentives shape behaviour is the first step. Daring to change them is where the magic happens (and where we need to accept the resistance that will come with that).

Placing smallholders at the heart of systems

Let’s look at the work of Sylvie Nirere, a fellow at the African Food Fellowship. As Country Director of Stichting IDH in Rwanda, she works directly with farmers who produce perishable products. By engaging with stakeholders, advocating for policy reforms, and fostering systemic change, Sylvie’s work contributes to sustainable practices, resource efficiency, resilience, and improved livelihoods. 

Her efforts embody the systemic importance of transforming the food system by considering the interdependencies of water, energy, and food by bringing it down to the needs of a single farmer who needs a healthy yield to remain competitive and take better care of her family. This feeds into a wider network in an environmentally responsible way.

Learning as we go

By understanding the nexus and its implications, we make informed choices and inspire a collective shift towards more sustainable lifestyles. 

The Water Wise Program in South Africa, for instance,  promotes water conservation practices among residents in response to Cape Town’s water scarcity challenges.

Balance and Just Transition

Just Transition refers to the set of principles aimed at ensuring a fair and equitable shift towards a more sustainable and low-carbon economy.

African countries, despite contributing less to global greenhouse gas emissions, are taking proactive steps to implement Just Transition projects and policies.

  • The Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP) in Kenya provides financial and technical assistance to small and medium-sized renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. It promotes sustainable energy development that is balanced across the food-energy-water nexus, by supporting projects that integrate renewable energy into local agricultural and water management systems, while also creating jobs and reducing poverty.
  • Another example is the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program in South Africa (REIPPPP) , a government initiative to accelerate the development of renewable energy projects in the country.

In conclusion, the water-energy-food nexus calls for initiatives that acknowledge their interconnectedness. Whether you are a donor, investor, NGO, or civil servant, it’s crucial to focus on designing projects that create multiple benefits at this crossroads. Each decision to implement sustainable practices will be a step towards the larger goal of creating a more resilient and balanced water, energy, and food system.

If you enjoyed this, here are a few longer reads and opinions for you:



The forgotten heroes of food: Transforming school meals

The forgotten heroes of food: Transforming school meals

Globally our food systems need to be more sustainable, equitable, and nutritious. Chefs in Schools is a UK charity working to transform both the quality and culture of food.

I recently connected with Chef in Schools, Chief Executive Naomi Duncan, a Forward Institute fellow whose passion and dedication have been instrumental in transforming the school food landscape in the UK.

As Naomi shared the story of their inspiration, challenges, and aspirations, it became evident that the food challenges encountered in the UK, while distinct, reflect broader issues ingrained in societies worldwide.

Redefining school food culture

In the bustling heart of London, amidst the clinking of pans and the sizzle of fresh ingredients, a culinary revolution is quietly simmering. Chefs in Schools (founded in 2018 by Henry Dimbleby, Louise Nichols, and Nicole Pisani) have set out to transform the quality of school food and help children learn about what to eat, how to cook it and where food comes from. And they are doing this in some of the most food insecure communities in the country.

For CEO Naomi this ambition is not merely about serving nutritious meals or providing eduction; its is about instilling a passion for food and empowering children to explore a world of flavours, textures and cultures. 

Chefs in School recognise that such a transformation is not about quick wins and easy fixes. Its going to require system level change.  They focus their efforts on three areas: 

  1. Raise the bar: They drive best practices in school food by teaching kitchen teams to create exciting and tasty dishes from scratch with fresh produce.
  2. Create an enabling space for others to do better: They use their credibility to inform advocacy efforts, campaigns, and policy makers.
  3. Inspire others to follow their lead: They prove that working in a school kitchen can be recognised, valued, and celebrated as a great career and a crucial pillar to nourishing children and teaching them about food.

Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive, Chefs in Schools

Challenges within the wider UK food system

Chefs in Schools works in predominantly low income urban communities. The food-scapes of such communities often include ‘food deserts’ (areas where it is simply impossible to access fresh and affordable produce), a high prevalence of ultra processed foods and low incomes. Indeed for some children the meal they receive at school will be their main source of nutritious food.

Consequently, there is a growing disconnection between individuals and the raw, wholesome ingredients that make up a nutritious diet. Schools therefore became a crucial battleground for Naomi and team to reintroduce children to the joys and variety of fresh foods while simultaneously teaching them essential cooking skills.

Similarities with Kenya

At Wasafiri much of our thinking and work revolves around the complex food systems in East Africa and so I was able to see how Naomi’s reflections echo some of the struggles faced in Kenya. Food poverty and insecurity ring true.

Both the UK and Kenya face challenges with child malnutrition. In the UK, around one in five children is overweight or obese. In Kenya, one in three children is stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

Naomi pointed out the disparities in food accessibility. The UK boasts a vibrant international food scene, but within this abundance, significant sections of the population struggle to access basic nutrition. Meanwhile Kenya grapples with challenges in food production, distribution, and waste.

Although the magnitude may differ, food waste in Kenya, just like in the UK, is juxtaposed with others not being able to feed themselves or their families,” says Naomi.

The role of systems leadership in addressing food-related issues

Systems leadership plays a pivotal role in addressing the challenges ingrained in UK’s food system. As a fellow of the Forward Institute, Naomi believes that purpose-driven leadership is indispensable. While government initiatives are crucial, a ground-up revolution is equally vital.

We are all actors within this system and can in our own way get involved to tackle some of these challenges. But ultimately it is those in power – the heads of major industry, as well as politicians, banks and so on – who will drive the biggest change,” says Naomi.

The key is to create an enabling space for others to engage meaningfully. The school kitchen teams are often overlooked heroes in education, embody leadership daily by providing nourishing meals on tight budgets, demonstrating resilience and innovation in a resource constrained environment.

What’s next for Chefs in Schools?

One of Naomi’s most rewarding experiences is seeing a child, previously hesitant about meals, try a new ingredient and return for seconds. Additionally, the impact extends beyond school walls; children become ambassadors of healthy eating, encouraging their families to adopt better dietary habits. Parents, initially hesitant, are convinced by their children’s enthusiasm and willingness to explore new foods. The organisation’s ethos has even been linked to improved engagement, behaviour, and learning in schools.

Children learning to cook with dough

And what legacy do they want to leave? A fundamental shift in how societies perceive, provide, and celebrate food. Naomi believes that when chefs are trained and empowered to create menus and dishes, they are much better equipped to adapt and overcome obstacles. When producers and farmers see the impact their ingredients have in schools, they work to ensure quality remains high.

We will continue to grow and expand to create training and a network for school chefs and food educators that enables and inspires them to feed the future well. Our vision is that every child is accessing great school food and food education. We’ll retire when that is the case!” says Naomi.

Naomi Duncan is a fellow of The Forward Institute, a non-profit institute focused on organisation and systems change. 


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Rethinking our leadership approach to tackle complex food systems issues

Rethinking our leadership approach to tackle complex food systems issues

In 2017, millions of farmers in East Africa faced a devastating drought and a new threat; the fall armyworm. The pest devastated maize and wheat producing regions in South and Central Rift Valley regions of Kenya.

The pest spread rapidly, it was unresponsive to traditional pesticides and worst of all, had devastating effects on farmers’ crops. Extension service providers were deployed, intervention strategies by governments were formulated but still, the problem prevailed.

To begin addressing the challenges we face in our food systems we must first acknowledge that we are tackling a complex problem. Complex problems have no single owner, no single root cause, they are dynamic, constantly adapting, and the system is in fact working for some people, somewhere, some of the time.

Transformational change is required to tackle the challenges we face in addressing the complexities our food systems. This entails various shifts across multiple components, leading to changes in the system.

Transformational change requires systems thinking and systems leadership. Systems leadership and thinking will allow our food systems leaders to acknowledge the interconnectivity and the relationships between different actors and the need for collective action.

Take for example the paradox of Climate and Nutrition and the unintended consequences on women. Empowering women to employ climate smart practices at farm level would have a positive effect on the environment and contribute to climate change mitigation.

The unintended consequence would subsequently be the increase in women’s labour and workload needed to adopt climate smart practices which takes away from their child caring capacities affecting their children’s nutrition. To address such a paradox, a systems thinking approach is required.

There is a great need for leaders in the food systems space to think and act systemically. Food systems leaders can apply a systemic approach to solving problems by applying Systemcraft. This framework applies five dimensions for action which work on underlying system conditions.

Applying the five dimensions of Systemcraft

  1. The first is to Organise for Collaboration since no single person or institution can make change alone. A great example of this is the African Food Fellowship which is a community and a network of practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and influencers across the food system in Kenya and Rwanda working jointly across different capacities such as aquaculture, sustainable land use, and agri-finance to transform food systems.
  2. Second is to Set the Direction. Transforming food systems needs big ambitions to mobilise resources. An example of this is Rwanda’s ‘First 1,000 Days’ health campaign of 2017 which aimed to eradicate child malnutrition. The ambition was big enough to rally support towards developing strategies to attain the end goal.
  3. Third is to Make it Matter. Change can be hard and so the issue must matter to those that need to do the changing. Due to the great significance of livestock (both socially and economically) to several communities in Africa, we have seen governments actively invest in developing the Livestock Development Strategy for Africa to increase the sustainability and resilience of the sector.
  4. Number four is to Change the Incentives. As individuals, we all make decisions that make sense to us – whether it is what food to eat or what job we do. For example, in Malawi, the 2006 Farmer Input Subsidy Program aimed to incentivise resource-poor smallholder farmers to reinvest in maize production by accessing improved agricultural farm inputs against a background of bad weather causing poor yields. This attracted farmers back into maize production.
  5. Lastly is to Harness Collective Intelligence. A system best serves those with the most information. Asymmetries of power in how information flows create a broken system. The 2021, Lead Mothers program in Uganda is a great example of this. Due to the lack of nutrition information on maternal health, a group of women called lead mothers were trained on good agronomic practices, and nutritional benefits of consuming biofortified crops and they became community-based information hubs which in turn holistically increased the community’s understanding of the importance of nutrition.

These dimensions of action can be applied in any order by any food system leader. When it comes to systems, changing what is right, and what is possible, are not the same thing.

It is not enough to simply understand the problems we are facing in our food systems and have some great ideas to shift them. We also must understand the wider context in which we are trying to create change and prompt our leaders to think and act systematically.

This was first presented by Brenda Mareri at TedX AGRF 2023, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

More on systems-leadership and systems approaches



The African Food Fellowship celebrates another graduation

The African Food Fellowship celebrates another graduation

There were candid reflections of their ten-month journey, heart-felt speeches, and of course, lots and lots of dancing!

Second Kenya cohort joins the Kenya Food Fellowship

The African Food Fellowship is growing! It graduated its second cohort of Kenya Fellows on 22 Sept 2023.

27 Fellows’ efforts were celebrated amid lots of pomp and colour and they happily received their certificates for successfully completing the prestigious Food Systems Leadership Programme, which equips them with the skills, knowledge, and connections needed to initiate and deliver effective food systems actions.

Their leadership journey with the Fellowship does not end there. They continue their food systems transformation work through the Kenya Food Fellowship, a self-organising space for connecting with their fellow food system actors, learning with and from one another, taking action towards changing what’s not working within food systems, and where a feeling of belonging to a group of passionate, like-minded individuals is harnessed.

“We are proud to graduate this cohort of Fellows, who are among the most exciting food systems leaders in Kenya today. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the food system as innovators, entrepreneurs, food producers, researchers, financiers, and policymakers. We have the utmost confidence in their capacity as change-makers,” said Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead, Brenda Mareri.

"Let’s be bold and identify what the African agenda is"

The Fellows showcased their food systems actions which are designed to offer real-world solutions to the greatest challenges facing Kenya’s horticulture, aquaculture, and agri-finance sectors today. Some of these include research on unconventional sources of food (including insects and indigenous crops), financing opportunities for smallholder farmers, and initiatives to deliver safer food to consumers.

The keynote speaker was Rikki Agudah, the Board Chairman at the Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisors of Kenya. He lauded the Fellowship for bringing different food systems leaders together and providing a space where they can collaborate.

He called on Fellows to focus on a common goal and lend their strengths to solving common issues.

“Let’s be bold and identify what the African agenda is. What exactly works for us as a continent? We might shine as individuals but if we want to achieve impact, we must work together. This is the only way we can achieve change,” he said.

As members of the Kenya Food Fellowship, the graduates will continue to enjoy learning opportunities and platforms where they can contribute to Kenya’s food systems agenda.

The African Food Fellowship has recently onboarded the third cohort of Fellows in both Kenya and Rwanda who started their leadership journey in September 2023.



We are looking for country MLE officers – Kenya and Rwanda

We are looking for country MLE officers - Kenya and Rwanda

Join our team!

We are looking for two monitoring, learning, and evaluation (MLE) professionals to provide support to the Kenya and Rwanda country teams at the African Food Fellowship. The MLE Country Officer (MLECO) will also support the team to learn from the information generated and from the events organised.

See the full description here.

How to apply

  1. Include a CV no longer than 3 pages.
  2. Include a cover letter that at minimum summarises:
    • Professional MLE expertise
    • Track record of relevant MLE experience
    • Motivation to apply
  3. Submit the cover letter and CV to [email protected]
  4. Use the subject heading: Application – AFF MLECO
  5. Application deadline: 25th August 2023