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Empowering Volunteers in Kenya

Learning circles have been running across 15 public libraries in Kenya over the past year with support from EIFL, OSF and the Kenya National Libary Service (KNLS). EIFL’s story about the first group of Learning Circle participants in Kenya is worth reading for context, as well as their notable achievements:

  • 246 learners – about three times more than the project target –  completed online courses in HTML/CSS (web design), Resume writing, Storytelling for change, Data analysis with Excel, English grammar and style, Interview skills, Community journalism: Digital and Social Media, and How to cook healthy meals.
  • Course retention rates were remarkably high. The majority of learners had never taken an online course before, and approximately 90% completed courses ranging in length from three to 11 weeks. Some Learning Circles increased in size as word spread and new learners signed up. (In the 2015 Chicago Public Library test, the course retention rate was 50%, compared with just 5-10% completion rates in many online courses without support).

An important strategy to their success was empowering volunteers, by actively supporting volunteers and learners to run their own learning circles. Kenya National Library Service staff Joseck Kweya Olala and Purity Kavuri Mutuku, based in Nakuru, Kenya, discussed their approach during a community call. The community call was posted online and is shown below, however, there were some technical issues when recording audio so the sound quality is poor at times (sorry folks!).

If you can’t hear everything, you should know that Joseck’s perspective on supporting learners and volunteers with ownership and responsibility of the learning circles is spot on. Joseck and others from the KNLS have created a wealth of knowledge that should be explored and shared widely. One quote he mentioned that I think sums up his approach perfectly:

‘A good leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way’

Here is our community call with Joseck and Purity, along with their powerpoint presentation and notes.

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Empowering Volunteers to Lead  Peer To Peer Program.

Presented By Joseck Kweya  Olala & Purity Kavuri Mutuku from the Kenya National Library Service – September 28, 2017

What is Volunteering

NCVO ( 2013) volunteering is someone who spends time, unpaid accomplishing a certain task or duty with the aim of benefiting someone that they are not closely related.

What are Empowered Volunteers?

Empowering is giving the volunteers responsibility along with authority and resources to accomplish their mission

Who can volunteer?

  • Learning Circle beneficiaries
  • University/College  Students
  • Youth/gang groups leaders
  • Library users
  • School Leavers
  • School Dropouts
  • Opinion leaders

How can you empower volunteers?

  1. Understand what it means to be a volunteer
    1. Be appreciative of their time
    2. eliminate their frustrations
  2. Give up some control-delegate
  3. Allow them to work-take their ideas and transform them into a task.
  4. Guide their effort and supply their resources –e.g. internet, Laptop, projector, pen, flip charts etc.
  5. Motivate yourself to motivate
    1. Others-motivation is contiguous. Volunteers will learn from you
    2. Show enthusiasm/interact with them
    3. Be friendly and open to dialogue with them
    4. Meet frequently with the volunteers
    5. Be a good listener
    6. Concern and respect their opinion
  1. Recognize their effort
  • Say thank you
  • Drop a thank you note, an email or a telephone call
  • Recognize them during the meetings/gathering

Benefits of empowering

  • Create a greater impact in the communities
  • Add credibility to the peer program
  • It’s a competitive world out there and other professionals are doing it. Can we afford not to?
  • Assist you to plan for the future/ focus further
  • Reach more people
  • They  support  facilitators to  achieve the objectives and mission of both learning Circles and  your institution
  • Raise the awareness about learning circle to the community
  • Promote community engagement and partnership
  • Promote lifelong reading habits

Common pitfalls to avoid  

  • Lack of clarity
  • Poor timing
  • Targeting the wrong group
  • Inappropriate communication methods (Gestures, body movement, lack of consultation)

What can I do if my Volunteers do not become empowered?

  • Take it slow
  • Remember you are developing leaders
  • Dialogue
  • Change your approach
  • Consult others

Success Story

  • More learning circles
  • More participants
  • Increased library patronage
  • Improved library visibility
  • Boosted staff morale library has become more vibrant
  • Inspired leaders
  • Empowered community
  • Promotion of National Cohesion and Peace

Contact information

  • Joseck.olala@knls.ac.ke ,  +254708392651
  • Purity.kavuri@knls.ac.ke ,  +254721286389


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