Issue: Spring/Summer 2013
Faculty Innovation - Intercultural Studies
Jaime Colman '13
Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies
Often the word “innovative” sparks images of new technology that develop new currents in culture. What if being innovative meant new ideas about old possessions — a new perspective about the material objects right before one’s eyes? For Dr. Ndunge Kiiti, the question of innovation is simply: what is in your hand? Kiiti is part of Vinya wa Aka (“The Strength of Women”), a woman’s group birthed in 2001 during Kenya’s economic crisis. Every month, the 15 members each give an agreed upon amount of money to another member to financially support a business or project that person is undertaking. Some of the women make jewelry, others make bags, and some have their own businesses. In a merry-go-round
system, not only are goods shared, but a sense of connectedness is established as well.
The story of Florence provides insight to the empowerment such women’s groups foster. When first invited to become a member of Vinya wa Aka, she declined out of embarrassment of her financial state. The women decided, against Florence’s wishes, to give her their collected money for that month. With the funds, Florence started a small catering business, which now caters for one of the six largest companies in Nairobi.
An African proverb says, “A human becomes a human because of other humans.” Professor Kiiti’s innovative work has taught me the importance of combining research with faith to creatively work toward the common good of individuals and
communities. She has an Amos-like fire for justice that motivates her to use whatever is in her hand to further the Kingdom that is already here, but is yet to come.