Our Nairobi office opened in 1963, against the backdrop of independence in the East African region. Over the past six decades we have supported courageous leaders on the frontlines of social change in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Recognizing the importance of building this new nation, we supported the capacity of institutions to train cadres of civil servants and technical experts who would go on to serve their countries as leaders in the public, civil society, and, in some cases, private sectors. We also helped establish the University of Nairobi in 1963 and gave significant grants to universities in Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to invest in the region’s future.
We continued to support East Africa’s transition to democracy through the 1980s and 1990s, assisting in its efforts to create a more just environment through reforms of laws, state institutions, and economic policies. We also funded research and interventions for economic and rural development, notably in agriculture and financing for low-income communities. We also began to expand our focus on women’s rights, bringing together activists and organizations from across the region at the groundbreaking 1985 UN NGO Forum in Nairobi, a defining moment for feminist movements everywhere and a catalytic shift in our support of gender equality around the world.
By 2000, we shifted our work to prioritize marginalized communities and help them gain access to the information, skills, and opportunities they need to improve their lives. From 2001-2013, we ran the International Fellows Program, which enabled over 380 Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Ugandans to pursue graduate studies and build a cohort of moral leaders. Through grants to museums and arts organizations, we strengthened the creative economy, enabling culture and free expression to thrive.
As a result, our grantmaking began to reflect the importance and well-being of East Africans, with particular emphasis on equipping people to participate in the expansion of democracy and the affirmation of constitutionalism in their countries. We also began to invest in East African philanthropy and, as a result, advance a foundation of domestic resources for development and social justice.
The watershed moment of post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 revived our commitment to advance democracy, opportunity, and human rights for all people of the region. In recent years, we have supported efforts to help communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania become rightful stewards and owners of Indigenous lands, grow movements led by women, youth, and marginalized groups, advance rights-based jurisprudence, and build renewed trust among communities.
Today our support focuses on sustaining vibrant civic space in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and weaving the resilience of civil society, including to protect social justice activists. We work to defend basic freedoms that enable full citizen participation, build public interest technology and media, and encourage accurate narratives grounded in the perspectives of all East Africans. We support the agency of all East Africans, in particular women, youth and people with disabilities, to play full and active roles as citizens and shape their present and future. Our ultimate aim is to continue the legacy of investing in East African visions, leadership and resourcing that is shaping the future of the region.