Kounkuey Design Initiative

This Entry has been submitted.

Kounkuey Design Initiative

Los Angeles, Estados Unidos Quênia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

KOUNKUEY DESIGN INITIATIVE (KDI) transforms impoverished communities by collaborating with residents to create low-cost, high-impact built environments (Productive Public Spaces) that improve their daily lives. Begun in 2006, KDI is an innovative international partnership specializing in the practices of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and urban planning. KDI believes that participatory planning and design are key to sustainable development. By working collaboratively with communities from conception through implementation, we build on their ideas, enhance them with technical knowledge and design innovation, and connect them to extant resources. In doing so, KDI empowers communities to advocate for themselves and address the major physical, social, and economic challenges they face.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

Housing projects equally planned for the environmental, social & economic sustainability of a community
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Housing alone is not enough. Housing projects need to have an equal focus on environmental, social, and economic factors of the communities in which they operate.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We create sustainable urban communities by building everything EXCEPT housing. Kibera houses the poorest of the poor in Kenya. Rents, though less than 10 US dollars a month, are still a heavy financial burden for most families. Past housing projects by the UN & others have failed because the increased rents needed to make the project ‘pencil’ are unaffordable for most families. Thus, many families continue to live in their existing shelter even when offered improved housing. We look to achieve the same goal - improved quality of life - using fewer resources & more community ownership. By creating spaces of shared amenities, enterprise & leisure, we make existing housing more livable & durable and build healthy communities in a manner that is resident-preferred, faster & more financially feasible. Our process is also unique in the following ways: 1. We think in terms of systems. NGOs like CharityWater have a single mandate of water, but that narrow reach is not enough. Organizations charged with sustainable slum improvement must ensure physical efforts are integrated with economic efforts and local initiatives with regional ones. 2. Where design groups like Design for Africa end their role by handing over a plan, we go further by co-designing with residents, securing resources & co-managing implementation. 3. KDI links economic activity to place-based improvements. Many organizations build toilets or teach women business skills; we simultaneously improve a place, teach skills & create physical spaces to employ them.
Impact: How does it Work

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Has already impacted over 10,000 people, and is looking to expand further.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

KDI has identified growing & diversifying its base of support as one of its top priorities, recognizing that increasing our financial and professional resources is critical to achieving our long-term objectives. Our plan includes the following: A. Expanding our network of friends & family. In conjunction with this we are establishing a donor database & creating vehicles for regular communication with (prospective) donors. B. Launching professional fundraising & grant-writing campaigns in the first quarter of 2011. C. Soliciting additional fees-for-service/consulting contracts similar to the current project in Haiti, by responding to RFPs & entering competitions. D. Participating in academic forums & presentations, in order to participate in academic discourse regarding improving quality of life in the world’s poorest communities. E. Developing a marketing/media strategy to create greater public access & exposure. The strategy includes starting a new website in the first quarter of 2011; writing for design & development publications; & accepting speaking engagements. F. Filling current staffing needs including a full-time Business Manager, a part-time Fundraising Coordinator & a part-time Communications manager. G. Collaborating with other foundations & NGOs when appropriate, recognizing that synergy will allow KDI’s resources to be stretched further.

Founding Story

Chelina Odbert entered Harvard University Graduate School of Design determined to find a way to use design to alleviate poverty. In 2006 she & five classmates launched Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) as a way to address poor living conditions that other design firms were reluctant or ill-equipped to confront. They started with the assumption that slums are not going away, but a better standard of living for slum residents was easily achievable, and the skills & insights of their professions could help. They raised funds to explore this idea in Kibera, Nairobi. In design workshops held with residents they identified priority needs and began to understand why past upgrading attempts had failed. They also saw residents’ capacity to solve their own problems when given access to resources. They returned from that trip committed to do something sustainable and spent the next year designing KDI & KPSP to avoid the shortcomings of the projects they saw in Kibera. They then exhausted every resource to design & launch a pilot project. This process included writing a business plan, participating in a social enterprise incubator, & taking an MIT engineering course. The specific idea of a Productive Public Space came in their thesis preparation as they looked for a way to bring the amenities the community wanted most while avoiding the chronic problem of lack of maintenance funds. The communities they were working with embraced the idea and have since built two projects in Kibera with a third on the way. They are now adapting the process for Haiti & the US.


BOARD MEMBERS Chelina Odbert Claudia Kahn Jennifer Toy Joe Mulligan Kevin Heneghan Steve Malkenson CO-FOUNDERS Arthur Adeya Chelina Odbert Ellen Schneider Jennifer Toy Kotch Voraakhom Patrick Curran US STAFF Chelina Odbert | Executive Director Eulalia Dominguez | Coachella Community Associate Jessica Bremner | Program Director Jessie Heneghan | Program Coordinator Joe Mulligan | Associate Director Lauren Ewald | Landscape Architect Intern Rosa Boshier | Development Coordinator KENYA STAFF Agnes Njau | Country Accountant Ali Karlen | Design Intern Amos Wandera | External Relations Coordinator Arthur Adeya | Principal Charles Newman | Country Director Ibrahim Nyaburi | Program Coordinator Irene Ochieng | Community Associate Jamilla Harper | Community Coordinator Julius Muiru | Construction Coordinator Michelle Lowe Morna | Design Coordinator Pearl Grace | Community Development Intern Wambua Nzioka | Construction Associate Wilson Sageka | Operations Coordinator