PEN was registered in Kenya by the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Coordination Bureau on 20th December, 2001 and began operations, from its headquarters in Nairobi, on 4th November, 2002.

PEN was founded for the specific purpose of strengthening citizens and citizens’ organizations in East Africa. The founders recognized that a number of grassroots development initiatives and locally driven citizens’ organizations closed shop after the initial motivation and energy behind their formation had subsided. On the other hand, many citizens’ organizations that survived became dependent on and are owned by a small group of individuals who, acting without public accountability, tend to use public assets for private agenda. The high incidences of failing citizens’ institutions reflects huge wastage of scarce developmental resources, personal disappointment and disillusionment of founders and volunteers working in such initiatives, a continuing focus on short-term development projects, limited accountability and a lack of sustainable development. The predominance of ‘white elephant’ projects and the high vulnerability of citizens’ organizations is one major cause of the lack of confidence so many people have in the not-for-profit sector.

Yet the strength of any nation reflects the strength of its people, and the contribution the people make to their own development. A strong, people driven, value driven sector (citizens’ sector) is fundamental to the long term sustainable development of all nations. Strong and sustainable citizens’ groups require not only highly motivated, committed and competent leadership, but also good governance, strong management, clear strategy, successful fundraising, demonstrated results, public profile, and effective policies, procedures and organizational systems. Citizens’ organizations therefore need affordable, appropriate, competent and effective capacity building inputs and support, if they are to build upon their innate capacity and strong commitment to their causes. While international NGOs and well established national CSOs are able to access donor support to engage private sector services, this is not so for the majority of citizens’ organizations in East Africa.

Through effective campaigns, PEN has enhanced citizens’ civic engagement in new democratic dispensations. PEN, working with other liked-minded CSOs, spearheaded the development of Standards for CSOs and the formation of an independent institution for the promotion of CSO standards and voluntary certification in Kenya. PEN with an umbrella group of CSOs, the CSO Reference Group, is also proud to have contributed to the first ever civil society fronted legislation, the Public Benefits Organizations Act (2013).

PEN continues to promote participatory development methodologies which empower communities to set their own development agenda by setting achievable community action plans and seeing them through the implementation and sustainability phase. In this plan period, PEN will increase its focus on supporting communities in Natural Resource Management and Integrated Community Livelihoods, as well as engage in advocacy for formulation of an effective policy framework eventually leading to good governance at all levels.


The challenge

PEN believes that a strong civil society is fundamental to the development of any country and its ability to have sustainable impact upon poverty. However, the Civil Society has not always played its role satisfactorily due to a myriad of challenges ranging from weak operational framework; weak capacity to demonstrate their effectiveness; capability question; inappropriate regulatory framework; and lack of common voice in the sector has undermined the role of the sector.

How we are addressing the challenge

PEN focuses its work on strengthening the capacity of CSOs to address these challenges. We implement projects at local, national and regional levels that have positive impact on reduction, alleviation and eradication of poverty. We stress holistic, people-centred, community-driven and rights-based approaches to development; emphasizing on self-reliance, lasting results and the optimum use of local resources for maximum impact.

Sustainable CSOs do not and cannot exist in a vacuum. All organizations operate within a political, social and economic context and are subject to regulatory and institutional constraints. While it is important to support organization-specific interventions for it to thrive, it is equally important to look at the external environment in which they operate. Without addressing the issues related to the overall civil society environment, interventions at the organizational level alone do not produce optimal results to achieve sustainable development and hence our commitment to work towards creating an enabling environment robust enough for the organizations to operate in. PEN achieves this through the following focus areas;

Effectiveness of Civil Society Organizations

The Civil Society in Kenya and all over the world plays an important role in reducing poverty and overall wealth creation by delivering services directly, by maintaining a watchdog and whistleblowers role, and building capacity among citizens, state and non-state actors. The poor in arid and semi-arid regions and urban slums have relied heavily on these organizations to provide much needed emergency interventions and services in areas of health and education.

Civil society provides people with the space for association, reflection and the ability to demand their rights; to become active citizens rather than passive recipients of services. An effective civil society can empower and represent the poor in policy formulation at local and national levels; raise awareness of people’s rights and entitlements through civic education and public campaigns; improve state services through tracking, monitoring and reporting and demand for transparency and accountability. CSOs capacity to work together will ensure inclusive access to services; while creating state capability to respond to citizen’s voice through participatory planning and budgeting.

As with the entire region, the Kenyan civil society sector is also experiencing an unprecedented level of challenges to its ability to operate, including legal restrictions and policy directives and informal targeting, unhealthy competition within the sector and declining funding. Laws and regulations are being designed to particularly target foreign funding to local civil society, restriction of work permits to foreign workers and increased government’s serialization of the sector as supporting terror and anti-government activities.

Through this focus area, PEN seeks;

  • To continue the process of enhancing enabling environment for Civic Society Sector particularly through the implementation of relevant laws (such as the PBO Act, 2013) and the development of improved and enabling policies and practices at county and national level;
  • Through capacity building and development of CSO networks at national and grassroots level, to strengthen the vibrancy and accountability of the sector with tactical leadership structures and capacity;
  • To strengthen lobbying against restriction to funding from legal and socially acceptable sources of funding (both local and International) and increase in funding from county governments, corporations and philanthropists; and
  • Strengthen self-regulation mechanisms to NGO standards and benchmarks such as those developed through VIWANGO and the PBO Act, 2013.

Democracy and Governance

It is PEN’s goal to strengthen and enhance the fundamental principles of democracy, educate and increase citizen participation in democratic processes and encourage accountability and transparency in government. Citizens need to become the ultimate watchdogs of public governance, being actively engaged with the political processes and participating in structured dialogue with government and the private sector.

However, many factors continue to hinder citizens’ participation in the affairs of the nation and have curtailed enjoyment of the benefits envisaged in the Constitution of Kenya 2010.  Some of these challenges include:

  1. Lack of political education among the people and hence limited understanding of the constitution, their rights and responsibilities leaving them inert and unable to capitalise on political and legal opportunities.
  2. Limited citizen voice and authority in matters of national and county interest. This limited engagement and participation has created tyranny among the political leaders and executive who use power and public resource with impunity.
  3. Ineffective use of public resources making it impossible to invest in social and economic goods and services that uplift the lives of citizens
  4. Elite capture of the economy, corruption, nepotism and limited access and control of public information and resources has exacerbated income inequalities
  5. Violation of the rule of law, and impunity in many facets of Kenyan life by the ruling class has led to injustices and abuse of human rights.
  6. Limited participation of young people, women, minorities and vulnerable groups in national and sub-national processes yet forms the largest percentage of the nation’s population

Through this strategy, PEN works with civil society actors, their networks and other supportive agencies to enhance support systems for citizen participation in governance (tools, skills and structures), and approaches of handling accountability issues and addressing corruption at County and National level.

PEN pushes for the involvement of citizens in the development of new Bills and implementation of new laws at County level. Special focus is on citizens understanding the laws, tracking, acting responsibly and lobbying. Priorities touch on public participation and devolution, as well as increasing budgetary allocation in Education, Health and Agriculture to ensure that marginalized groups benefit meaningfully.

PEN and its affiliates seek to deepen the implementation of devolution and strengthen governance institutions, while addressing other challenges to accelerate growth and equity in distribution of resources, reduce extreme poverty, create youth employment and improve economic and social outcomes.

Resilience of Communities to Environment related shocks

It is estimated that over 10 million people in Kenya face regular threat of food shortages due to declining yields and weather shocks. UNDP estimates that climate change will have far-reaching consequences for the poor and marginalized groups, among which the majority depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and have a lower capacity to adapt. This situation is likely to become more desperate and to threaten the very survival of the most vulnerable farmers as global warming continues.

Notable effects of global warming include reduction in the land suitable for agriculture and in the length of cropping seasons and yield potential from rain-fed agriculture. This is due to worsening water stress perpetuated by longer dry spells, destructive flooding, and deteriorating soil quality that is compounded by weak capacity of citizens and their institutions to mount effective adaptive mechanisms.

Discovery of new mineral wealth brings with it a mixed bag of benefits and problems, largely attributed to environmental impact of these extractives. Coal mining for instance, has potential to pollute water systems and contribute to worsening climate change impacts due to carbon emissions.

PEN strives to support enactment of policies that strengthen benefit-sharing between the state, corporations and communities. Others issues being handled include protection of cultural sites such as shrines, migration paths for livestock and wild life, waterways and community grazing areas. PEN also tracks, monitors and reports on the performance of the mining sector in general, and uses the reports for programming and further enhancement of our tools of engagement.

Therefore, PEN seeks to work with communities, government and development partners to intervene against the impact of environmental shocks on food production systems, on the environment and on livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people. PEN will focus on sustainable agriculture practices, development of agriculture value chains and capacity building of communities and civil society organisations in scaling up tested and working innovations in this area.


PEN works with citizen’s organizations such as community based organizations, community groups at the county level as well as other civil society organizations at the county and the national level. PEN believes that these organizations play a critical role in shaping the development agenda of their communities and the country at large. We also believe that equipped and empowered civic sector will support development of credible and accountable systems to the citizens.

A respected and credible Civil Society sector will be able to hold the government and the private sector accountable leading to better targeted allocation of national resources. These organizations, if better organized and equipped with necessary skills, will provide platforms where citizens can congregate and get involved in debating and influencing decisions affecting them. Informed and engaged citizenry on the other hand will be able to engage governments, corporations and international development partners and will make their voices be heard and be included in the plans and budgets.

PEN puts more emphasis in working with these organizations and identifies other key public sector institutions, which directly or indirectly affect the lives of the citizens. At the county level, we target the county government (both the executive and Assembly) and other county and national departments involved in the delivery of services to citizens.

We however note that for CSOs to flourish, a more enabling environment will need to be nurtured through enactment of policies, administrative and legal framework that support a vibrant and accountable sector. PEN believes in a conducive civic space to allow citizen’s organizations to operate and become vibrant in their actions. This grows a willingness and capacity by government institutions to engage with the sector and the citizens; supports government institutions (independents offices especially) to function independently and effectively, and maintain basic levels of transparency and legitimacy in public affairs.

Through this process, PEN hopes to ensure that the citizens, particular the poor, weak and vulnerable, will have their voices heard resulting into increased service delivery from both state and non-state actors in areas such as water and sanitation, health, education, food supply, gender rights and inclusion of the marginalized in regime of benefits delivered by state and non-state actors. With increased collaboration between civil society, governments and the private sector, we expect the needs and rights of citizens to be reflected in the county and national development agenda, CSOs to champion citizen’s agenda and become true platforms for citizens to express their views and amplify their voices. Ultimately, transparency and accountability in all sectors is to be promoted and hence proper utilization of resources, better targeting of resources towards wealth creation and overall poverty reduction.