Interviews

An Interview with Nancy Mudenyo Hunt: an award-winning philanthropist

Nancy Mudenyo Hunt is the director and founder of The Nasio Trust, a charity that focuses on empowerment through education in western Kenya. The charity began when Nancy’s mother, Irene, found an abandoned baby in a sugarcane field and decided to adopt him. She recognised the value of raising the child, Moses, in a family home instead of in an orphanage. The charity believes in the power of placing abandoned children in family homes with supportive parental figures. Since 2001, Nancy has helped to build day care centres, a medical centre, a school and countless sustainable projects that encourage individual empowerment instead of reliance and dependency on aid. Oxford students have continued to support the charity through internships and volunteering and the University of Oxford awarded Nasio the Gold Standard for the opportunities given to students. Nancy herself has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University for services to the educationally underprivileged; she was also named “The UK’s Most Inspirational Woman” at the National Venus Awards in 2015. In the past year, Nancy has also published a book called ‘Not so Black & White’ which details the struggles of a young Kenyan woman living in London, attempting to reconcile her past with her present. Although fictional, it creates authenticity by borrowing from Nancy’s life experiences and work. 

As a black woman living and working in the UK, Nancy has faced racism and discrimination throughout her career. According to a study carried out by Echoing Green and The Bridgespan Group, organisations with Black leadership own 76% less unrestricted assets than organisations led by white people. In simpler terms, this means for every $1 million of unrestricted assets owned or managed by white leadership, black-led foundations raise less than $250,000. 

Discrimination faced within the charity sector is not often talked about, but it remains a pertinent and important issue. Instead of giving in to the racism which governs British systems and organisations, Nancy said she “felt an opportunity to take the power back and to do things the way [she] expected them to be done. With respect and dignity every human being deserves. Her father was a village chief born of a royal ancestry, and he always taught her to be respectful of everyone regardless of their age, background or gender.” These words have guided Nancy through the trials and tribulations she has faced in the sector. 

A common problem faced by black philanthropic leaders is the inability to raise as much funding as their white counterparts; Nancy believes funding for non-white CEO’s and funders is fuelled by lack of trust that black leadership must earn from funders, this is a harmful racial stereotype which leads to inefficiencies in black-led fundraising efforts. Nancy told me that “When she came to the UK, she experienced a lot of racism. She struggled but it made her stronger and more determined. As CEO of a charity, that she founded and runs, she decided to set her own rules, and decided that no one was going to give her permission to be the best. We are all human despite our background, nationality or even gender.”

The Nasio Trust also works to empower women through education on sexual health and this year they celebrated as the first woman supported by Nasio secured a place at university to study medicine. The girls face a variety of challenges which the boys do not, such as the need for sanitary towels and how their periods prevent them from attending school. Nasio combats this problem by simply providing sanitary towels and thereby allowing girls to continue their education. It also provides education about sexual relations and sexual reproductive health to break down the barriers of marriage and pregnancy which take the girls out of school. Nancy has also created a new program for exceptional and gifted students which focuses on children with academic talent; it has a specific focus on promoting girls and takes the challenges they face into account when reviewing who can access the program. 

During the pandemic, there has been no opportunity for online schooling which means that the children and teenagers have not been in education since March. Nancy said that her biggest worry was the amount of “drop-outs” and “the girls who have been taken to the city to work as house-helpand a lot of them are in the markets, selling things for their family.” She worries that the students will not be able to “compete on a global market” due to the gap between them and their peers who have access to online learning. For the children and teenagers that Nasio supports, Nancy says that “intellectually their life has just stopped.” Nasio is providing newspapers and learning materials but it is not a proper substitute for school. For us in the UK, we have been focusing on the challenges of online learning, but in Kenya, many children are struggling to access any education at all. 

Despite the problems that the pandemic has brought, Nancy said that the support from the UK “has been incredible” and that “people have been so generous”. The charity will be providing food to communities whose crops have been destroyed this year by unprecedented floods and wind-up radios to enable families to access life-saving information about COVID-19 and the pandemic. Their work in Kenya has continued despite the pandemic and they have been able to provide information and resources to help sanitise and protect communities. Nancy and Nasio’s work has been vital in keeping these rural communities in Kenya safe during 2020. Despite the increasing need for support in the charity sector, the UK government has decided to cut down on African aid which will mean that charities will suffer in 2021.

The challenges that Nancy has faced since 2001, when she founded The Nasio Trust, have not dampened her enthusiasm, and she insists that her work in the charity sector has “really made [her] believe in humanity”. She says that she is “very privileged to still be able to see that people are willing to sacrifice to make a difference in other people’s lives.” After twenty years in the sector, Nancy is still “learning every single day” and she continues to empower and better the lives of those who are supported by The Nasio Trust. 

It was truly an honour to speak to a woman with such a rich history in philanthropy and a keen desire to help others. Her work has undoubtedly improved the lives of so many women, men, girls and boys, and will continue to do so in the years to come.

Phoebe Jowett Smith

Phoebe is a student at Jesus College, she studies Spanish and Arabic and is about to start her third year, after spending her second year living in the Middle East.