History of Community Based Organisations in Kenya

By Anthony M. Wanjohi:

The history of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) lies way back during the American Civil War, whereby charity groups were designed to offer assistance to those who were displaced, disabled, or impoverished by the war. It was during the period between 1980s and 1990s, when CBOs expanded to a point that they were being referred to as a movement, and the process of community organizing expanded into many community organizations[1]. The main difficulty that emerged during this period was the shifting of power from local communities to regions, nations, and international corporations. The process of globalization raised issues about the efficacy of local organizations in addressing problems caused by large-scale financial forces, thus the foundation of national and international organizations[2].

In Kenya, CBOs began as self-help groups in the years of 1960s when the first president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta began to encourage grassroots growth through coming together in the spirit of what was referred to as Harambee. This spirit was based on the understanding that one could not be able to carry out plans or actions by him/herself but would require a certain contribution from the other members of the society. The Harambee spirit kept most of the self-help groups growing.

It is estimated that there are around 40,000 CBOs in Kenya. Most of these organizations are membership based organizations that offer services to their members as much as they give back to the society. They are often non-profit organizations which are based locally within the communities and they play a critical role in creating a ground for individuals to share their problems and resources[3]. These organizations serve to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ of the society. The main sources of finance for these organizations are contributions from the members of the organization, society and donors.

CBOs have been known to face a number of challenges in running their programs. A study conducted on the sustainability of community based projects inKenya[4] revealed that the major challenges that these organizations face include poor leadership, inadequate skills and under-capitalization. Further, the study showed that there is a vast gap between these organizations and donors. Thus, unless these organizations are strategically positioned, it is very difficult for them to address not only the critical issues facing communities today but also the very challenges threatening their own survival.  This forms the basis for of this strategic plan.


[1] Fisher, R. (2002). Bridging Social Movement and Community Organization Activism: Rethinking Theoretical and Organizational Barriers. Presentation at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Urban Affairs Association.Boston,MA: Urban Affairs Association.

[2] Speer, P.W. & Perkins, D.D. (2002). Community-Based Organizations, Agencies and Groups. Retrieved December 27 2011 from http://www.answers.com/topic/community-based-organizations-agencies-and-groups.

[3] Dave, P. (1991). Community and self-financing in voluntary health programmes in India. Journal of Health Policy and Planning, 6:1, 20–31.

[4] Wanjohi, A.M. (2010). Sustainability of Community Based Projects in Developing Countries. Saarbrücken,Germany: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. Available online at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sustainability-Community-Projects-Developing-Countries/dp/3843376085 Countries.