Our planet, our children

The Guardian

Originally published by The Guardian on April 13, 2015

Many people wonder what kind of planet we’re leaving behind for our children. But few ask: what kind of children are we leaving behind for our planet?

Asking what kind of children are we leaving behind for our planet is an important question, one that our grandparents should have asked of each other. In the barely three centuries since we began the race to mechanize agriculture, production, and even warfare, we have proven to be the greatest threat to our home. In primary school, I heard the story from some old men in our village that the rains came from places like Mau forest, Maragoli forest, and Nandi Hills, all the way to the plains of Kano. These were places I considered sacred. As a young mind, I felt these places provided the livelihood of our village. It made our local river flow, made our farms productive, and provided food through good rains.

Yet as I joined Maseno University, 25km northwest of my home, Maragoli forest was gone. Political brawls and encroachment had begun to threaten the very existence of Kenya’s largest water tower, the Mau forest. Around this time, I joined a student organization called Enactus. I was pursuing a degree in philosophy and political science, as well as getting a formal introduction into a new kind of entrepreneurship that was teaching me to have a head for business and a heart for the world. I was learning how the positive power of business could transform the world. My first experience trying to live in a better planet was a project called “Greenpreneurs”, where I led a group promoting the growing and selling of trees and tree seedlings in the local market.

Ogonda, top right, during a clean-up community effort in Kisumu, Kenya in 2009. 

Fast forward to my graduation day. I looked at my environment and all I saw were opportunities to transform. I had a choice: to travel straight to Nairobi like many young people of my time and look for a job, or to turn my passion into a business. When I considered the amount of work I would have to do to not care about the community and rural Kenya, it was no longer a choice.

I began working with community-based organizations as a seasoned adviser, spending hours developing programs and activities that would enable groups to work in welcoming environments that supported the planet, the people, and also made sufficient profit to keep them in business. Soon, I became a point person for several projects whose primary aim was to exist under the “People, Planet, Profit” platform. In our current project, in which we serve as millennial legacy consultants, we have adapted a system called “neighborhood economics”, which allows us to serve the community as we make profit and care for the planet. In our business model, we provide a mentorship program for youth, as well as a community program that allows them to work part time, volunteer and learn from the environment as we promote their talents through various short term projects.

We also invest in projects that provide higher impact for the community: we have a project that provides solar lanterns for underserved communities, as well as a project management program that trains future independent consultants and creates a wider platform for young graduates to target poor communities and convert these into productive, effective, and efficient families and community organizations through the concept of neighborhood economics.

Ogonda giving a presentation on leadership and decision-making to students. 

We have also adapted a new concept that reduces reliance on donor funding by ensuring that a group utilizes its local resources to promote business in their immediate environment. For example, neighborhood economics utilizes the resources in villages or immediate environments to create opportunities for the residents.

We have learned from creative minds in different forums, including the US State Department’s Community Solutions Program. We have also learned that at the end of the day, a business activity that does not benefit the community has no place in our world. We cannot create a future for our children if we do not teach them to care for the planet we call home.

Promoting change for the long term requires patience and hard work. Kofi Annan says no one is born a good citizen or a good businessman, but that it is through education that we can become these things. Leaning by doing is often the best way to become good at something. I had to learn this as I sought to promote education of the young to develop environmentally friendly business ideas. The understanding that by working with community groups on responsible businesses and inspiring young students to plant trees and take care of our world inspired me and by extension the people I worked. There are different ways to promote caring for the planet. In fact, there are many investments in the non-profit sector, but none come close to the positive power of business.

Government and society both depend on successful businesses to thrive. This is why the young need to learn business ethics to become better citizens of the world, especially because we do not have the luxury of leaving behind a world with children who lack the skills and passion to take care of it. I believe that through work and education, the future will be secure. The future is not something to fear, if only it is understood and prepared for.

Our generation learned about capitalism, and soon became its experts. Our children can learn about the planet, and become its most dedicated proponents. We simply need to educate them through our actions and lessons to ensure we leave our world in good hands.

Simeon Ogonda is a youth enterprise development consultant and US State Department Fellow of the Community Solutions Program. He has acted as president of the Enactus University chapter in Maseno University, managing director of Spring Break Kenya, and field operations manager for StartUpAfrica.