How a Gift Launched a Movement - An Interview with The Kikulu Foundation

If you’ve been following along with Jordan Prindle Designs for awhile now, you may recognize my first interviewee. I partnered with The Kikulu Foundation to refresh their website back in May of this year.

Alisha was amazing to work with and her story and the story behind The Kikulu Foundation is incredible. I was thrilled to see her name in the application form and was delighted to get the opportunity to work with her again.

I’m excited to share her story with all of you so let’s jump straight into it!

Nonprofit Interview | How a small gift helped one woman launch a nonprofit movement. Read all the details on #smallbusiness #nonprofittips #smallbusinesstips

What is The Kikulu Foundation? 

The Kikulu Foundation is a non-profit organization that was established to remove barriers to education for children in underdeveloped communities. We passionately believe that we can make the most significant impact on the world by ensuring all children, no matter where they live, has access to quality education. 

We currently work in Uganda to help support education initiatives impacting the lives of hundreds of children and teachers.

Where did your nonprofit get its name? How is it pronounced?

The word Kikulu, pronounced (che-koo-loo), means "It's Important" in Lusoga, a regional dialect in Uganda. Our organization started its work in Uganda where many of the students speak Lusoga. In the beginning, when I was living in Uganda, the kids used to express how important it was to them to have the opportunity to go to school. I heard the children say this word often, and it was so impactful. They were the inspiration for our namesake.  I believe that the most valuable practice in creating lasting change is by investing in people. This is so important and ties into the foundational values of our organization. 

What called you to this work? What was the pivotal moment for you that made you want to dedicate yourself to this type of work? 

Growing up, I always wanted to make a difference in the world. As I got older, this led me to years of traveling and volunteering all over the world. I worked with underserved communities across seven countries and four continents when I was in my early thirties. During this time, I saw the realities of the estimated 200 million children around the world who don’t have the opportunity to go to school to get a quality education. 

During my childhood, I also saw how having opportunity changes a person's trajectory. I saw what a college education did to improve the circumstance of my family vastly. My mother, who was a young single mom, used her education and college degree to help support our family.

Over and over, I see how the greatest potential for impact comes by empowering individuals through education, especially women and girls. 

Photo provided by The Kikulu Foundation.

Photo provided by The Kikulu Foundation.


Which moment of running The Kikulu Foundation has lit you up most so far? 

Every time I go to Uganda, and I’m surrounded by our young students who are joyful, intelligent, and determined, it completely lights me up. They have persevered through more hardships than many of us could ever imagine, yet, I never see them without a smile or song in their voice. 

What has been your greatest struggle?

Our greatest struggle is consistently raising the amount of money needed for scholarships year-to-year for more than a hundred children. Currently, we are a 100% volunteer-run, grassroots non-profit fueled by our working Board of Directors. However, all of our board members work full-time in their respective industries. This requires us to rely on experienced and skilled volunteers who can help us with things like social media, copywriting, marketing, fundraising, and administrative work. 

You mentioned that The Kikulu Foundation started from your grandmother giving you $500, what’s the story behind that?

After living in Uganda, I came back telling so many stories to my family about all of the amazing kids in Uganda whom I’d had the opportunity to meet. One day, I was visiting my grandmother, in the small town where I grew up. I told her I began thinking of how I wanted to be a part of ensuring these kids could go to school. I didn’t necessarily imagine starting a non-profit, but I wanted to do something. I knew I couldn’t just do nothing.

 As grandmothers do, she saw the passion and commitment in my eyes. She gifted me $500, and along with the small amount of money I had saved, the Kikulu Foundation was formed. My grandmother did not have a college degree, but she knew the importance of investing in dreams. Even though she is no longer with us, she’s left a legacy that has helped hundreds of young people in pursuit of their dreams. 

You mentioned in the questionnaire that The Kikulu Foundation does things a bit differently? What does that look like for you?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 

Margaret Mead’s quote is pretty much the mantra for our team. Since our beginnings, we’ve carved our own path, worked lean, and depended on a community of thoughtful, committed individuals to help us grow. Long-standing non-profits can often require hefty overhead, conventional offices, and take a traditional approach to fundraising.  In contrast, we have very low overhead, we don't need a conventional office environment, we have a dispersed team, and our fundraising efforts center around a tight-knit community, both on and offline. 

How has The Kikulu Foundation changed and adapted since first launching in 2011? 

One of the beautiful things about life is that it is ever-evolving. We change and often adapt to the needs of our team and the needs of the communities we support. As each year comes to an end, we identify what we can do differently or better the next. 

One way we’ve changed and adapted since launching in 2011 is by understanding the importance of having a larger number of engaged and active board members. When we began, there were only four of us. Now, we have doubled that, and we’re always looking for passionate, committed, professionals who want to dedicate their time and expertise to make a difference. 

You have a team of volunteers now. How do you manage your team? How is it different from having employees? 

We have volunteers, interns, working board members, and advisory board members - all who help us do the work we do. I mostly manage the day-to-day with our long-term volunteers and interns, and our Board of Directors plays a key role in guiding volunteers who help with events. 

The most significant difference between having full-time employees and volunteers is the amount of time we have to accomplish our goals. Volunteers so graciously dedicate their time, which is typically 20 hours a week or less. Therefore, we have to identify our priorities masterfully, have a clear understanding of what our goals are, and stay hyper-focused to do full-time work in half the time.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to start a nonprofit?

When we first began, I had a sign above my desk that read, “We have a strategic plan, it’s called doing sh*t.” I laugh at that a bit now because working lean, we figured out really quickly that our goals did indeed require thoughtful planning alongside the action. You need both. But, there is sometimes an outside perception that you have to do something incredibly big to start something. The truth is, tons of small wins add up over time. I’ve found it’s important to have relentless conviction and an unshakable work ethic to make progress. Nonprofit work is hard (and sometimes draining), do one thing every day to keep the momentum alive. Pay attention to what sets your soul on fire, follow that, and surround yourself with people who believe in you!

How can people get involved with The Kikulu Foundation? 

The Kikulu Foundation welcomes brands and companies with a passion for education equality to join its Giveback Partner program. Partners can choose from a variety of monthly giving amounts, and 100% of donations go toward supporting education for kids in Uganda. In addition to connecting with a community of changemakers, give back partners receive a media kit, a “give back badge,” and newsletter and social media recognition.

Follow along with The Kikulu Foundation online:

Alisha’s story is incredible. Her passion and drive is crystal clear and the story of her grandmothers gift is undeniably inspiring.

What part of this interview was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!