How the Safaricom Marathon benefits the community – Interview with John Kinoti, Lewa community Manager


The Safaricom Marathon is this Saturday in the Lewa Conservancy. Runners, animal conservationists and party lovers will congregate in Lewa to run for the wildlife. Last month I was in Lewa on a media trip to find out how the money raised for the marathon is used. We were able to interview some of the key people involved in the different projects.

John Kinoti Lewa Marathon

One of the people we managed to interview was John Kinoti. John is the community development manager at Lewa. He deals with all the communities around the conservancy.

Tell us about the Lewa Community?

The Lewa has a big neighbourhood; we have about 12 communities which account for around 50,000 people all around Lewa.

What projects are you doing with the community?

Beyond the marathon, Lewa has this community program that is planned and organized in such a way that we meet the needs of the people and basically this is what I’ve organized through this community development program. Some of the issues that we are addressing within the communities are things to do with water development, this is basically ensuring that communities are getting clean water. We have got agriculture, and almost 95% of the Lewa neighbourhood is practicing agriculture as an economic activity so we are engaging ourselves in proper agriculture. We also have a health care program; this is where we are actually trying to see where we can support governments efforts to ensure communities have got healthcare services closer to them. So we are running four clinics around Lewa which are all targeting these communities. We have roads development here again in partnership with the county governments, this is trying to see how communities can actually get better access through road grading and infrastructure development. This is again to make people who are doing agriculture to go along with their economic activities without disruption. And all this support comes from the Lewa marathon.

Beyond it also we have a forestry program which again is trying to see how people can actually participate in improving the environment through planting. From the proceeds of the marathon we are also running about six tree nurseries that are really helping to produce seedlings that our communities can plant and do their own farming. We also have a women micro-enterprise program and this is giving a chance to women to participate in conservation and also development. All these is supported by the proceeds from the marathon that we run here in Lewa.

The proceeds from the marathon also does a lot in Education which is a standalone program within the wider development program for Lewa. We are doing a lot of infrastructure development and curricula development. Also seeing that the schools have all the basic support in terms of infrastructure so that over 6,000 children can get a better learning atmosphere through the kind of classes being built and all the infrastructure that comes with education. So it is a huge program that is really making education better and achievable for this younger generation.

What else are you doing with the marathon funds?

Out of this, of course with other support, the marathon fund has helped us to really continue to support around 13 community water projects which are delivering water to about 23, 000 people. They didn’t have clean water but now because of the marathon, really they are getting water which they are also using for agriculture, so the situation has changed and that is why communities continue running in the marathon because they know every time they run the marathon there is a part of development that comes their way and it has really become a cultural event for these communities.

You have talked about women in the communities benefiting. Tell us more about that.

Here we were trying to see that women can be given an opportunity to participate in development. Our cultures have not been very good to the women and you know most of the resources are owned by men, but Lewa realised that it was important to bring women on board. That is what we do in the women micro-enterprise program which is a 3 in 1 program, where we are doing a lot of training and capacity building to women in terms of business processes and establishment of businesses. Then we expose these women because they are rural women and you just can’t train them and leave them at that. We take them for exposure tours for experiential learning where they see businesses ran by other women who they can learn from. We have a revolving fund where once women have been trained and exposed, they can borrow soft loans to open their own businesses or improve what they have, and this has really had a lot of impact through this support because seven years ago we had 30 women and at the close of 2015 we had 1800 women in the program. There has been exponential growth out of the support from the proceeds. Woman have come on board to look out for their future through business orientation and planning. The program has really moved fast.

How is the money divided?

We divide among the various incentives that we have, because the marathon we run here is sort of a national marathon that has a lot of needs to support but we have about 5% specifically was set aside for these communities out of the total to do the development they actually choose and manage on their own. Over and above all the other programs that are also given the money. So directly to the community we had 5% of the total going to do the roads, the water and all that.

What changes have you seen in the last couple of years?

Well, for the almost 96 months that I have worked in Lewa, we have seen a great change in the development of the communities. One great thing about the marathon is that it is no longer just in the calendars of the communities, it is their hearts because they know every time they sweat running, they sweat for their development. This is one thing that really has given us this chance to hold together because communities are not pushed to come and run. They actually work, practice to come and run because they know they are running for their future development and really we have seen projects like healthcare, education and water/ Some of these we would think the government should be able to do but we have seen in our own small way we have supplemented or complemented the government role.  Were it not for the marathon and of course Lewa such kind of projects; 13 water projects, 4 clinics, 1800 women, over and above all the other development incentives, wouldn’t have happened. This marathon has provided money and provided an important occasion to bring everybody together for a common purpose which is a very important one of developing the society.  People come from far away to run, enjoying themselves and also knowing they are not just enjoying but also changing the direction and lives of the people.

How is the relationship between the community and the animals?

In Lewa we work as a team. I will tell you that despite actually concentrating within the communities, we know that the reason why each exists is because of everyone else. What we have done is that, the communities know that were it not for the wildlife inside Lewa probably these programs wouldn’t have worked. I would want to say that the wildlife also know they need the community outside there, because what we have done is because of this development. We have found ourselves in a symbiotic relationship, communities have now a value for wildlife and also wildlife really knows they have very good neighbours around them because there is protection and security for them. This symbiotic relationship has been really the model for Lewa and makes us proud because communities understand wildlife and wildlife is given a chance to thrive and survive well. There’s nowhere else you could have such a successful model when you are engaging communities in conservation.

Have you run in any of the Marathons?

The last two years I run, but this year since I am an organizer I have to give space to the others.  But I have done it, I have done a half marathon. I did two hours, 19 minutes and 38 seconds, but I am looking forward to run again in the future.  We have a team for the staff members, some ran while other are participating in organizing.

Would you recommend the Lewa Model of conservation elsewhere?

Yes, we would actually recommend that.  It’s only that we would say every region has its own unique problems and cultures, but actually this could be a direction of how things work. We say as people replicate it, they can actually see what is best for them and actually they can engage that, but yes from the years that we have been doing the marathon we can say that it is working and yes it can be replicated.

What is the attraction of the Safaricom Marathon?

You know the beauty of sport is that it brings different nationalities, age groups, cultures and set ups together, because people are coming to the wild and also the wild is accommodating them to run. I mean where else would you find that? So really the sport helps us to actually share the same ground, the same space and time, both wildlife and people from different nation for a common reason that is running for development so that is what makes it even more exciting.

Has the Safaricom Marathon faced any resistance?

The resistance we have had is actually reducing the number of teams because people want to run as many as they can and of course there’s is the number we can accommodate within the conservancy. The biggest resistance is on who should run and who shouldn’t. We keep working on that because we say even if you don’t run, those who run are our champions and they are running for the same cause. We have to divide people into groups and say this time round it is these people who are going to run and the other can actually be there to support them. So we have two groups, of spectators and participators and all of them are geared towards one goal, raising money and running so that we can change our future.

What is the future of the Safaricom Marathon?

We would love to continue for as many years as possible and continue to get support and sponsorship. Maybe I would say the ultimate goal at one point is to see if we can triple the money we raise in every event. That would really be the ultimate goal because by tripling the amount of support means we will triple the benefit sharing we give to the people and that means ultimately we would have actually almost met the needs of the growing population. So that is our ultimate that we would really want to get there.

How are the marathon preparations going?

I want to tell you that there is a lot of planning that is put in place when we come to the marathon. We know very well people are running within a conservancy, and that is the reason why, through security planning which is done three months in ahead of the marathon, we have put in place all measures to ensure that for that one day wildlife respects that people can also be in the conservancy. Thus the reason why we have had no incidences whatsoever of issues whereby people have actually criss-crossed with wildlife, again it is also fun. You realize that you are running as you are looking at the wildlife; I mean it’s also quite a good engagement there so but I’d like to assure everyone that proper arrangements are done.  We cannot afford incidences that will cause problems for people running within the conservancy.


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