On 11-12 September, a new dawn broke—giving rise to a new chapter for grassroots leaders rooted in empowerment. Lightup Impact Days 2023, co-hosted with the East African Philanthropy Network (EAPN), gathered 154 delegates from across Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania; it was a celebration of voices often unheard and a platform where dreams to create social change met reality.
An impetus to social change
Lightup Impact Days 2023 was intended as a catalyst for change, providing a platform for exchanging ideas, fostering collaborations, and transforming concepts into actionable initiatives – encouraging grassroots to set new organizational goals or work more effectively towards existing ones.
We adopted the theme ”Shift the Power” to cultivate a mindset shift towards grassroots empowerment and drive forward systems change in East African communities. This theme resonated throughout, guiding conversations and inspiring attendees to engage in thought-provoking dialogue that could redefine our future.
Our community- and youth-led approach
In line with the “Shift the Power” theme and our community- and youth-led approach, we intentionally included young grassroots leaders in the planning, organization, and execution of Lightup Impact Days 2023 – pushing the voices of young people at the forefront of localization discussions. We also aimed to create an environment where equality in collaboration could be fostered, allowing our members to interact directly and voice their opinions.
To ensure equal representation, we invited speakers both from the Lightup Impact Community and other relevant external organizations.
Thematic tracks that kept us on track
Broken systems are the cause of many challenges and dysfunctions in our society. Economic inequality, healthcare, educational disparities, environmental degradation, and unequal power distribution in development cooperation represent but a few of the adverse effects of broken systems on society that directly impact local communities in East Africa.
Our event was strategically divided into four thematic tracks, each delving into crucial aspects of empowerment. These tracks aimed to get conversations started and spark ideas among local community leaders and activists to reimagine frameworks for development that promote the localization agenda.
Every session, discussion, and connection made during Lightup Impact Days 2023 aligned with our organizational goals. By emphasizing local empowerment, fostering youth involvement, advocating for marginalized communities, and celebrating grassroots initiatives, the event epitomized our broader vision and mission. It was a tangible manifestation of Lightup Impact’s commitment to creating a sustainable and equitable future for East African communities.
Day 1 highlights
On Monday, 11 September, Lightup Impact Days 2023 opened its doors to the public. Social entrepreneurs, NGOs, corporates, academics, grassroots leaders, Lightup Impact Community members, and different networks gathered, creating a vibrant space for enlightening discussions, captivating keynotes, and engaging networking.
Lightup Impact Days 2023 panel discussions provided a dynamic platform where critical issues – like the ones outlined in our theme tracks – were explored, sparking insights and strategies for transformative change.
Panel discussions on Day 1 yielded several key insights:
- Essential shifts are needed within development systems, including changing mindsets, creating partnerships and collaborations with and within local communities, relationship building between stakeholders, and stepping up and taking accountability for local projects.
- Young people are the changemakers of today; they bring a unique energy and thirst for developing innovative, contemporary strategies for driving change, emphasizing the need to shift power to them as they work to ignite change in their communities. Mentoring and training the youth is an important step towards empowering them to develop and bring about positive change in society. Award young grassroots leaders the trust they deserve and view them as equal partners in building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.
- The SCN panel revealed the power of collaborative networks. The SCN network was brought together to catalyze and co-create social change. It is about bringing NGOs together to learn from each other and develop synergies. Knowledge sharing and collaboration are powerful tools for changing social systems and for local sustainability.
- There is a need to strengthen the capacity of local organizations that support vulnerable and disadvantaged groups so that they can influence policies, fight for their rights, and voice their opinions.
- Our community is creating real impact, as showcased in our Lightup Impact Community Voices session – highlighting resilience, innovation, and the transformative power of community-driven initiatives.
Day 2 highlights
Tuesday, 12 September, marked a more intimate gathering exclusive to our Lightup Impact Community members, partners, exhibitors, and sponsors. This private event was an opportunity to strengthen relationships and collaborations, empower grassroots leaders, and forge meaningful connections. Below, we share key highlights from Day 2.
- Ashoka took the stage with a workshop that delved into their groundbreaking programs. Cynthia Murungi Gicheru and Emmanuel Araka illuminated Ashoka’s innovative initiatives, emphasizing the Local Innovators Program’s impact, engaging 300 teams across 30 countries, impacting 121 cities, and involving 2,500 citizens. Their session showcased the potential of collective action.
- Noel Mushinzimana, co-founder of the Nursing Research Club in Rwanda, delivered a compelling address on restructuring power dynamics. “Solutions are found within, not imposed from outside,” he emphasized. His message echoed through the conference, becoming a driving force for attendees to be proactive in their communities. “This conference has been an excellent platform for collaboration, networking, and celebrating the diversity among us grassroots organizations”, Noel stated.
- Moderated by Saraphina Ambale, the Impact of Networks and Philanthropy panel discussion delved into networks’ profound impact on driving system change. Patrick Ikwara stressed collaboration’s pivotal role in financing and resource mobilization, while Bridget Rugube emphasized networks’ transformative potential in advancing social issues, especially gender equality.
- Kennedy Odera, a representative from Kenya Community Development Foundation, spearheaded a session on local resource mobilization. Engaging local stakeholders, community-led fundraising, mobilizing social capital, enhancing financial literacy, impactful storytelling and communication, and monitoring and evaluation of programs emerged as key strategies for successfully accessing and harnessing local resources to drive sustainable community development.
Interactive and networking session
The interactive session, “Diving Deep into Grassroots Management,” became a crucible for collaborative ideas. Organizations like PALES, BUDA CBO, and Gifted Community Center shared challenges, best practices, and recommendations, fostering an atmosphere of shared learning and growth.
Networking sessions formed the lifeblood of the event. Attendees engaged in vibrant discussions, forging bonds beyond organizational boundaries. Friendships were forged, partnerships were born, and a shared commitment to collaboration became the driving force.
Honoring our sponsors, advocates, and exhibitors
Lightup Impact Days 2023 stood tall, supported by our sponsors and advocates. The Standard Media Group, Mama Layla, Together Women Can, Making More Health, System Changer Network, and Madison Group provided not just financial support but also improved the reach of our conference and its message, shared experiences, and stories about their interventions, and provided crucial tips on how to empower communities and drive social change.
In the exhibitor hall, we proudly showcased pioneering organizations and initiatives that are leading the way in their respective fields. These forward-thinkers inspire us with their groundbreaking solutions, and we are thankful that our community got the chance to chat with and learn about and from them in person.
Key achievements and impact
Our 2nd annual conference was a resounding success. We are very proud of what we achieved together with our community, partners, co-host, and sponsors – bringing forward impactful conversations and new perspectives on system change approaches, empowerment of young people and vulnerable groups, and grassroots leaders across East Africa. Some key achievements include:
- Gathering 154 participants, 50% of whom were represented by young grassroots leaders across East Africa, doubling participation compared to last year’s event.
- For the first time, successfully hosting a grassroots-led event where a decision-making Founder Committee made up of Lightup Impact Community members was incorporated into the event organization and management processes.
- Generating interest among attendees to join our community; we received 46 new Lightup Impact member applications and are excited to announce that we have successfully welcomed 27 new members to our community.
- Fulfilling the purpose of providing a platform for exchanging ideas, sparking relevant discussions, sharing knowledge, making new connections, and fostering collaborations to help grassroots drive social change sustainably. Key results can be found in our event report. But overall:
- 61.9% and 33.3% of participants were satisfied or very satisfied, respectively, with the topics presented
- 46.9% of participants found the event valuable for making new connections, insightful sessions, and inspiration and motivation
Every voice matters
Lightup Impact Days 2023 found its essence in the simplicity of conversations and shared dreams. It wasn’t about grand gestures; it was about people—believers in the potency of their voices. Every voice mattered, proving that unity and shared dreams have the power to light up the world, one impact at a time.
As we bid farewell to this year’s event, anticipation builds for what lies ahead. We invite you to share your ideas, aspirations, and suggestions. What themes do you envision? What resonates with your vision for a more empowered, inclusive future? Share your ideas as we collectively shape the narrative for the future.