Published On: May 9, 2022|Categories: News, sbvp-news|

According to the Catholic Sisters Initiative Strategy, 25, 700,000 sisters globally devote their lives to serving humanity as they are trusted servant leaders in communities and play a critical role in supporting the most vulnerable groups in our societies. However, consecrated sisters face various challenges which hamper the delivery of their service to mankind. These challenges include a significant drop in donor funds, a lack of adequate leadership skills and capabilities, inadequate financial and organizational sustainability measures, as well as a growing number of elderly sisters with limited funds to support them. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about further challenges globally as previous funding options are now majorly targeted toward mitigating the effects of the pandemic. This has necessitated the need to transform the sisters’ social ministries into sustainable social enterprises.

The Conrad N. Hilton foundation dedicates a significant portion of funds towards grant making within their Catholic Sisters program. In 2021, Strathmore University Business School conducted a baseline survey commissioned by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which indicated the need for capacity building and skills enhancement in areas such as: understanding and managing social enterprises; leadership; financial; project management; social and digital networking skills; among others, to enhance enterprise development.

To work towards the objectives of the project, the Vice President of Strategy and Programs, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Marc Holley, paid a visit to Strathmore University on Wednesday, 27 April 2022, to get a first-hand view of the sisters’ work and to strengthen the partnership between the Foundation, Strathmore University and the Association of Consecrated Women of Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA). The three partners work hand in hand to implement the project, with the Hilton Foundation being the main funder of the project, while Strathmore University Business School plays the role of ensuring that the sisters receive regionally accredited education ranked highly in Africa for producing exemplary business leaders. Further, ACWECA leads in the recruitment of sisters in liaison with the Secretary Generals of the associations in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Tanzania, managing social ministries and enterprises looking to develop their capacities further to effectively serve their communities.

Strathmore University Business School’s Founding Dean, Dr. George Njenga, gave his opening remarks and shed light on the inception of the project. He stated that Sr. Jane Wakahiu, Associate Vice President, Program Operations, and Head of Catholic Sisters at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, approached him seeking support in empowering Catholic Sisters to build sustainable social enterprises. The seed funding for the project was initially granted to the Miller Center and was being implemented by Santa Clara University. The partnership between SBS and the Hilton Foundation took shape after Sr. Wakahiu saw the opportunity to offer localized capacity building, coaching and mentoring through the Strathmore University network, who have a renowned social standing for developing ethical and influential leaders who positively impact society throughout the region.

While giving her remarks, Sr. Wakahiu highlighted the current state of mission appeals and the decline of members attributed to decreased funding, forcing sisters to apply a charitable model to serve society. “In order for sisters to become the social agents for change, we need material well-being to complement our spiritual well-being”, stated Sr. Wakahiu as she emphasized the importance of the project.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was established seventy-five years ago with the founder seeking to promote understanding and peace through travel – “to be in a business school that combines faith with entrepreneurship would have been a dream for him”, remarked Marc Holley as he outlined the importance of this partnership as the Catholic Sisters program is the biggest project of the foundation. “The warmth and dignity of sisters’ work is inspirational”, this project has the potential to touch millions of lives through the collaborative networks growing within the project and those that will be fostered as the Sisters apply their new-found skills acquired through the project.

This being the first meeting between the three partners, ACWECA Secretary-General, Sr. Bridgita Samba expressed her gratitude for having partners who understand the contextual environment that ACWECA works in. She went on to express the role of the project in imparting a greater appreciation for sustainability in entrepreneurship, giving prominence to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically goal one  – end poverty; goal two ––zero hunger; and goal three – good health and well-being for all. She went further to mention goals eight, ten and eleven, conveying the role sisters can play in implementing strategies through their social enterprises that go towards realizing these goals. Goal number seventeen – partnerships for the goals, is being actualized by the collaboration of the three partners – “The SDGs can only be realized through strong global partnerships and cooperation” and through this the project can achieve the goal of an empowered consecrated women capable of transforming social ministries into sustainable social enterprises.

The project was implemented in line with the key strategic areas of the Hilton Foundation. The project aims to establish collaborative networks through connecting sisters with projects and enterprises, with the aim of replicating success stories across the region, while keeping in mind the capacity needs that are present and that Strathmore University can provide support through management and leadership coaching culminating in the project’s main objective of providing a financial inclusion solution with an innovation center for the sisters.

While going through the measurable outputs, SBS Ag. Executive Dean, Dr. Angela Ndunge gave an overview of the project’s progress. So far, the project has graduated the first cohort of the Project Management Programme with one hundred and six sisters from 84 congregations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia attending and successfully completing the Programme. The launch of the project coincided with the first cohort of the Social Enterprise Programme, which is currently being held at Strathmore University Business School, Nairobi. There are 24 sisters from eight congregations in attendance.

The project seeks to have continuity beyond the set period and the regions that it is being implemented. With time, the project has the potential to extend beyond these parameters and reach more consecrated women in Africa and by extension, the communities they passionately serve and empower to attain peace and dignity for a just and equal society.

Article by Katherine Keango

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