Campaign Fever

November 18, 2007

Raila Rally 11-18

I walked out of my apartment half-asleep this morning and before I knew it I was in the middle of a rally for Presidential candidate Raila Odinga. I joined 30+ young men as they paraded down Ardwings Kodhek Road announcing their support for Raila with posters, megaphones, oranges (yes, the fruit: Raila is from the Orange Democratic Movement) and a matatu with people hanging out every window.

It’s nearly election time in Nairobi, and billboards and campaigning for the Dec. 27 vote cover the city. I took a matatu into City Center to explore. In Uhuru Park a massive billboard announces Raila as the “People’s President” while the signposts along Moi Avenue are plastered with ads for current President Mwai Kibaki.

Everyone is talking about it and the energy is exciting. On our first night we stayed up in discussion with Edwin Machine, whom we are temporarily sharing an apartment with. Edwin (born and raised in Nakuru, on his way to Kisumu for work) supports Raila because he feels he is more connected to people than Kibaki. He described Kibaki going out to a village and talking about 6% economic growth – meaningless to people when their daily lives don’t change – while Raila talks to people about the price of sugar and things that matter to them directly.

Regardless of political preference, it was an interesting conversation about communication, especially after our reflections on story telling this fall. Finally, the Kenyan election isn’t the only thing on peoples’ minds… I got a big cheer when I told the guy I was buying bananas from that I am an Obama fan!

Waking up with the city (Podcast)

November 17, 2007

A while ago, I saw Jan Chipchase, an ethnographic researcher from Nokia Design, speak about his field research methods.  One of the methods was called “waking up with the city”, which means you observe people in the streets in the early morning hours as they start their routine.  In a short amount of time, you can get a sense for what life is like in that place.  So I tried it this morning in Hyderabad, India:

Download MP3

The Power of Storytelling

November 14, 2007

Fellows slam.

“I will tell you something about stories, (he said)
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see.”


— Leslie Marmon Silko (Native American writer of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe)

Over the past two weeks, the Acumen Fellows had the unique opportunity to work with Rives ( an amazing poet and teacher, on story-telling. In the short-term, our goal was to prepare a performance for Acumen’s Investor Gathering.

But working with Rives had a much bigger impact on me, and all of the fellows.

We prepared a group story, with snapshots of how we arrived at the Acumen Fund and why we are committed to the work that we do. I talked about Ayub Ali, a dear friend of mine in Uganda, and his daughter Amal who died of malaria. Wangari shared lessons from her grandfather in Kenya, Trish talked about her Cousin Myla and her parents’ home in the Philippines, and Chris described traveling to Soweto with Bono. John shared the impact of 9/11 on his life, Jawad the experience of leaving his life in the U.S. to commit to work in Pakistan, and Jon the story of his friend Joe from Malawi.

We got to know ourselves and each other better through the experience. We realized the power of good story-telling. I also learned how far I have to go to become a good story-teller, but how important it is to get there.

A theme throughout our training has been the importance of speaking up. As Anthony Romero, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union told us: “Quiescence is the worst thing. Don’t be afraid of the ideas, and articulating them.” Acumen has made an enormous investment in storytelling training for the fellows, and we are committed to telling stories of Acumen’s work – and our personal experiences – this year. Hopefully this blog is a start, as we set out for the field today…