This past year was a blended experience for SYEF, returning to normal but redefining what is “normal.” We took plenty of steps toward how we used to work in the pre-Covid era, along with continue adapting of our work as circumstances remained dynamic with changes in school calendars, small outbreaks that affected plans, and similar scenarios. Overall, our reflections of the past year revealed several insights:
We are adaptable.
When Covid first hit in 2020 and schools closed for nine months, our Kenya-based staff quickly found a niche for SYEF to support information dissemination about the virus and to address food security, and they did so with poise and focus. This mindset carried into 2021; our staff continue to show increased confidence and effectiveness in decision-making and adapting to changing circumstances.
We are trusted.
SYEF operates in a region where corruption and lack of transparency within organizations are common. We have long been committed to functioning differently, from how we set up signatories on our accounts in Kenya to communicating openly to the community about our scholarship selection processes. We have a staff committed to these principles, and an advisory board of Samburu community members who are equally dedicated to a reputable organization. Today, we are recognized in the Samburu community as an organization that can be trusted and does its work fairly and objectively, and we are approached often by partners for guidance and participation in other community initiatives.
Charitable giving is volatile right now.
The implications of economic uncertainty — initially caused by lockdowns, and now by high inflation — on charitable giving can be unnerving for non-profits, as donors adjust and adapt to new economic realities. While our number of donors decreased in 2021 – a trend that is true among the non-profit sector more broadly – our overall charitable giving receipts have remained relatively stable. It makes us feel a little more vulnerable, of course, but we have been able to sustain our usual levels of activity, and are budgeting conservatively as we look ahead and anticipate continued economic uncertainty.
Our 2021 lessons learned:
We are an organization that aspires to share not only our successes, but the lessons learned that come when we fall short, as well. We treat these moments as a normal part of doing business and experiences from which we can learn. In 2021, while we were satisfied with our organizational performance and impact overall, we need to re-strategize on a few things: 1) more effectively work with our young men and women to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Similar to previous years, a few scholarship recipients had to withdraw from school because of pregnancy. While we have wonderful female board members who meet with the affected young women about pre-natal care and support, we want to prevent these instances when they are unplanned; 2) we need to broaden our donor base, and understand what leads some individuals to stop giving. While growing our donor base during a period of economic uncertainty is a challenge, we need to work at it, which will help us endure any further losses of donors, and sustain our usual levels of activity for the rest of 2022 and into 2023.