How we can leave no one behind

What you need to know:

  • When the “house” voted, the opposing side emerged victorious in the hotly contested motion.
  • Many poor people in slums simply lack the knowledge and information to substantively improve their living conditions. 
  • By improving other people’s wellbeing, we shall have improved ourselves.  Some of the solutions may not be perfect. Some may flop but we’ve got to keep trying.

Last week, there was a mock debate on the UN’s clarion call of “Leave No One Behind” by 2030. The event happened during the launch of Safaricom Sustainability report.

The motion proposers led by Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya, and Students from Nyeri High School, tried to convince the “house” that we could meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and leave no one behind.

Robert Collymore, the Safaricom CEO, and his team from Bahati Girls High School, differed, arguing that while the goals were indeed important, there isn’t enough time to meet the targets.

When the “house” voted, the opposing side emerged victorious in the hotly contested motion.

As I drove out of the venue, I began to reflect on the philosophy of leaving no one behind. It dawned on me that it is really about me and my relationship with the greater community. 

I remembered a book titled Kindling Our Stars: Nurturing Bright and Dark Flames by Genevieve Wood, which was given to me by a friend after we had had a heated argument on political development in Africa.   In one of her essays, Ms. Wood writes:

We are a communal species. We are part of a greater Whole. And while if we forget ourselves no one else will help us, that does not mean that we should then assume everyone else will take care of themselves as well and become isolated hermits of greed. None of us stands alone.

This book, which stands between philosophy and religion, is an anthology of amazingly realistic and practical approaches to life. 

The author uses abstract concepts like Bright or Dark flame to lead the reader into understanding oneself or being comfortable with one's self; alone, but not lonely. 


In summary, the book is in stark contrast to capitalist ideals of independence that Africans often seek to emulate blindly.  

Yet core African cultures are built on social ideals that one’s measure of social belonging is in how much “help” you bring to the community. There are those who can bring help and those who expect help. Therefore, expecting that everyone can chart an independent future is fallacious in Africa. 

The clarion call of leave “no one behind” urges us to deliberately build inclusive development projects that takes care of all, irrespective of their backgrounds, which we often use to discriminate.

For example, in 2010 the Rockefeller Foundation financed a study and provided seed funding for an emerging concept called Impact Sourcing. It evolved into a project that targeted disadvantaged youths, who ordinarily could not get employment anywhere. 

Many were from slums of Nairobi while some were disabled, but through the program they became useful members of society. 

To actualise the project, Digital Divide Data, which already had an established presence in Cambodia, opened a branch in Nairobi. To date several thousands of young disadvantaged youths have benefited from the program. 

This project is unique, one of the first inclusive projects in Kenya.  Someone at the Rockefeller Foundation saw that emerging opportunities in Information and Communications Technology weren’t only for the brightest and decided to test this new concept.

The company has been digitising records for public interest organisations, including Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya National Library Services, Nature Kenya, Kisumu Municipal Council (now Kisumu County) and several NGOs.


These were platforms of work that the company used to raise its profile in the sector among commercial clients.

Employment creation is therefore not the preserve of government but a responsibility for all of us.  It means that to create solutions for society, we must spend more time thinking about people and the answers to their problems, because in the true African philosophy, the notion of community forms the basis of society. 

The Zulu phrase, "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (a person is a person through other people) underscores Ms Wood's assertion that “None of us stands alone.”

Whilst the philosophy is a complex concept in a continent with multiple ethnic groups, it must be understood in the broader sense of community. 

We need, for example, to set targets for strict implementation of the constitutional provisions for diversity, and increasingly work towards changing people’s mindsets towards embracing inclusivity in all aspects of life.  Imagine if county governments started working closely with vendors while maintaining the cleanliness of towns and cities. 


Right now, their interaction with the poor is largely characterised by chasing and beating people seeking to eke out a living. County governments need to think differently and begin to help street vendors conduct clean and straightforward enterprises. 

The required change of mind-set can be achieved if vendors begin to understand their responsibility to leave their workplace as clean as they found it. In that spirit, county governments should collaborate with universities across the country to start creating opportunities for the poor.

Many poor people in slums simply lack the knowledge and information to substantively improve their living conditions.  Many traders simply replicate what others are doing, irrespective of whether or not it is viable, and in the end, earn no income.

We fail if we cannot find new opportunities and meaningfully begin to engage these people in proper income generating activities.  If we take the problem as a community problem, then we can change a lot.

Is it possible to get rid of the chaotic systems in slums and build a robust supply chain system and micro distribution channels that industrial giants can begin to engage?  Any form of industrial organisation brings order and predictable development outcomes. 

The current competitive environment is largely wasteful since in most cases it compromises the poor vendors with oversupply of commodities. 


With proper organisation, from source to the table, supply can be managed to safeguard interests of both farmers and vendors.  This cannot be achieved without making information available to everybody along the supply chain. 

Unscrupulous businesspeople take advantage of lack of information to dump or hoard produce to the disadvantage of many, especially the poor, who have no understanding of such dynamics. 

Eventually, it will be prudent to develop a commodities market to help disadvantaged people who will certainly be left behind for lack of information. Leaving no one behind is a complex concept, but it is achievable if we work as a community, knowing that as a people, we are persons through other people. 

By improving other people’s wellbeing, we shall have improved ourselves.  Some of the solutions may not be perfect. Some may flop but we’ve got to keep trying.

Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.Twitter: @bantigito