We Will Not Achieve The SDGs, Unless We Get Dirty With Details.

With 2030 now within sight, conversations about the SDGs are increasingly including an important word — URGENCY. In his opening remarks at the 77th UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “Unless action is taken now, unless funds are disbursed now, … tragedies will simply multiply, with devastating consequences for years to come…” In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, calamitous natural disasters resulting from extreme weather conditions, wars and persistent civil unrest all across the globe, movement towards realising the goals has been slow. In fact, for some goals like ending hunger, poverty and promoting women’s rights, progress has been reversed. Various reports on the SDGs such as the SDG Report for 2022 already predict that we may not be able to reach them by the stated deadline, unless drastic measures are taken.

We work along the Kenyan coast in a county called Kilifi, where evidence for the need to act fast is clear as day. As the world modernises at an incredibly fast rate, millions of people in rural places such as this one are being left behind for reasons often beyond their control. They miss out on technological, ideological and even experiential advancements happening in urban and peri-urban places, and in the so called Global North. Consequently, they lack the information, rights and power that they need to influence decisions and processes that affect their lives.

For example, at a time when education and one’s proficiency in digital technologies determines how one turns out, we still have Gen Zers who are functionally illiterate. They cannot read or write in any language, they struggle with basic math, and cannot speak any language other than their mother tongue. Words like “Tab”, “Shift”, “Capslock” and other basic computer terms are new to them. These are Gen Zers who: don’t have emails, may be on Facebook but never heard or used Snapchat, don’t know what Zoom is, have never played on a playstation, been on an Uber or even ordered anything online. Opportunities abound with the knowledge and experience of these things, but these young people miss out.

It is difficult to navigate life without identification documents. Yet, in Kenya, thousands of people lack birth certificates, identity cards, tax numbers and other essential documents that identify them as citizens of this country. As a result, they have no say in local, national, personal and public processes that affect them. Some of the things they cannot do include travel freely within/outside the country, speak in public meetings, vote, protest, access government offices, access services like relief aid during emergencies, open bank accounts, go to hospitals or even get counted in surveys.

Even while all our rights and responsibilities are enshrined in the constitution, many young people do not know what the actual document looks like, and more have not read it. How then would they know what to demand from the government, how and when? How would they know what their role is in running the country?

Everyone deserves to live a life that they are in control of. We imagine a world where every young person and youth has information they need to make informed decisions. We do not see why urban and rural youths should not have equal access to information and opportunities that will improve their lives. We do not believe that where one lives should determine how big of a punch they can throw at life. Everyone should be able to easily access education, identification documents, government offices and services, technology and modern ideas.


Many girls and women in Kilifi county are period poor. They result in using crude methods like inserting spongy plants, pinching bed mattresses or even sitting on a mound of sand to absorb their menses. Moved by this, a certain organisation found that the best way it could help this situation is by distributing washable sanitary pads for free. After a while, monitoring and evaluation reports revealed that the scale of period poverty had not reduced, despite huge investments made by the said organisation. The thing with washable pads is that they have to be washed. Kilifi is a semi-arid County and women and children walk kilometres to fetch water. When they get it, they use it sparingly, mostly for cooking and drinking. For efficiency, water for washing is recycled. But one cannot recycle bloody water. So now they have pads, but they are not being used in the way that they should.

This example represents many projects that are implemented based on shallow data, estimations and generalisations. This not only wastes much needed resources, it also slows down progress. In addition, it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, donors feel as though their investments are not bearing fruit and may shift to other things. On the other hand, people in these communities where programs are failing may lose hope in interventions because it may appear to them as though no solutions work for them. Human beings don’t make choices by optimising. In designing interventions, we have to learn to go beyond the seen to the complicated unseen where emotions, biases and heuristics control behaviour. Development needs to happen in a more practical way that responds to the finer details of people, and this calls for us getting not being afraid to get dirty on the job.

Human beings don’t make choices by optimising. In designing interventions, we have to learn to go beyond the seen to the complicated unseen where emotions, biases and heuristics control behaviour.

We appreciate that in its recommendations, the SDG Report for 2022 calls for ‘significant investment in our data and information infrastructure,’ and that, ‘timely, high-quality and disaggregated data can help trigger more targeted responses, anticipate future needs, and hone the design of urgently needed actions.’ In the recently concluded Global Goals Week 2022, Kenyan organisations such as the Open Institute, Lit Initiative and Visions Magnet Theatre were at the forefront advocating for increased localisation of development — from national level to community level.

In-keeping with this new direction, we are excited to launch The Invisible. This is a series of videos showing the lived experiences of people from rural Kenya. The series will tell stories of girls, boys, youths, women and men who live in some of the most remote parts of Kenya, and give a sneak peek into the way they live their lives and why they live it the way they do. Through the series, we aim to inspire governments, international and local nonprofits as well as other change-bringers to see and understand the extent to which rural communities have been left behind, enough for them to pay more attention and design better interventions. Consequently, the videos will serve as good data points to begin interventions from.

We shall keep you updated on this work, sharing with you the stories as well as our own experiences as we go. We welcome your comments/thoughts/suggestions on [email protected] or direct message us on any of our social media channels.

Thellesi Trust
Thellesi Trust

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.