DFID Part 1: The Gift inside this Grant

by Kupenda

Five children hugging each other and smiling.

This year, on July 5, the Kupenda team celebrated an unexpected victory: we won the 7th Innovation Challenge of the Amplify program, a partnership between the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), IDEO.org, and OpenIDEO!
This was exciting for several reasons:

  • We were 1 of just 6 organizations to receive this grant among 489 applicants,
  • In nearly 20 years of existence it was the first time we’d won a government grant,
  • We did not have any personal connections to DFID, which means we were selected wholly on the merit of our work and quality of our proposal.

After the shock wore off we were faced with another surprise: this grant was going to be very different from all the others we’ve received.

“Many funders finance nonprofits under the assumption that such organizations have all the answers and only need money to make an impact. But we know development is a learning process, innovation requires trial and error, and want to give our grantees tools and resources that allow them to first research and test their programs for enhanced impact. We call it prototyping, but its really just small experiments to help you learn what is going to eventually work.”
That’s what Rob Gradoville told us on our first day of DFID “bootcamp” workshop in Nairobi last month.

Rob is part of the team of designers at IDEO.org that facilitated the workshop.  For five days, Rob and his colleagues walked me, Leonard (our Kenya director) and representatives from the five other grantee organizations through the process of deconstructing our proposed projects and developing key questions to test them.
At the end of the week Leonard and I flew to our field office in Gede with bags full of flip charts, post-it notes and mapped testing plans. We discussed workshop outcomes with Cynthia (our U.S. Director), presented them to the Kenya Board of Directors and incorporated their feedback to the charts, notes and plans.

When all was said and done we had a 3-month road map designed to answer the following key question:
“How might we enhance the content and follow-up strategy of our advocacy workshops so the pastors and traditional healer participants are better able to support children with disabilities in their communities?”

The answer to this question won’t be reached in staff meetings or workshop planning sessions. It won’t be the result of us toiling away at our facilitators’ guides or laboring over workshop agenda items. Instead, this grant will allow us space to research, test, discuss and explore solutions alongside the true experts: The people benefiting from our programs.

  • The parents who care for them,
  • The siblings who love them,
  • The midwives who deliver them,
  • The soothsayers who diagnose them,
  • The traditional healers who treat them,
  • The pastors who counsel them, and
  • The community members that shape their social landscape.


From discussions and pilot tests with these individuals we will develop a realistic, effective work plan that will guide the 12-month period of this grant. It’s called Human-Centered Design – a development best practice that rarely gets the time, funding or support it requires to be done well.

Three months face-to-face with our beneficiaries is a Gift because it’s not weighed down by reporting requirements or filtered through outcome goals. Instead, these months give us time to get to know our beneficiaries, explore their feedback in depth, and apply their suggestions in full. For nonprofit leaders swimming in endless paperwork and daily demands – this is nothing shy of a dream come true.
Our research and testing results are coming in January… stay tuned…

Check out our winning grant proposal here: “Empowering spiritual leaders to support and advocate for improved care, education, protection and inclusion of children with disabilities.”

About the Authors

3 thoughts on “DFID Part 1: The Gift inside this Grant

Beth Melillo

This is really exciting for you guys! Looking forward to seeing what you will do with the grant and where it will take you.



Congratulations! Kupenda deserves the grant in every way!


Alex Kanundu

The uniqueness of Kupenda programs deserve the grant. Its to my believe this grant will inspire and aspire more people to support the good work Kupenda is doing.


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