Our Journey as the First Eco Cause-Based Club in Africa

By Jane Maonga, Founder and Charter Member, Lavington Eco Rotary Club

Building a Green Culture for Rotary

Students at Kawangware Primary School are learning to be good stewards of their environment, in partnership with Lavington Eco, Here they gather under a mural commissioned by the club, celebrating Prof. Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her grassroots mobilization to protect and conserve the environment.  

Lavington Eco is building a green culture for Rotary as Africa’s first eco-Rotary Club. I’m writing to share our experience as a road map to help other Rotarians embrace environmental action.

The club was conceptualized in November 2019 following a moment of profound personal loss, which led to a path of introspection, soul-searching, and a quest for solace and healing from nature.

Seeding the Idea:

Inspired by the successful model of the Twin Cities Rotary Club in the US – which was one of a handful of single-cause focused Rotary clubs globally at the time, the idea of setting up an environmental cause-based club was presented to the Rotary Club of Lavington (mother club). Less than a month later, in January 2020, a written concept was submitted to District 9212’s membership committee for consideration. This then followed a rigorous process of consultations as the district had not had any cause-based Rotary club until then, and this was a learning process for everyone involved.

Weathering the Storm:

Even though our first meeting in February 2020, attracted 15 potential members, membership growth was slow initially, as only a few of these people proceeded to join the club. However, fate had its own plans as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Ironically, this was an unexpected silver lining as it accelerated our growth from six to forty-two members by the time the club was chartered in June 2020.

In a time when virtual interactions were a lifeline, the online gathering of like-minded eco-enthusiasts became a haven for those seeking for an escape from the uncertainties of a “Covid-ridden” world, and a deeper connection with nature. There was a lot of necessary conversation happening on the digital space at the time, linking Covid – and other health issues, to environmental degradation. So, the idea of an eco-cause based Rotary club, was one that appealed to many. To date, the club continues to attract dynamic individuals who share a passion for the environment, and a commitment to service.

People of Action:

This endeavor has not been without its challenges, and while we can acknowledge that we have had numerous hiccups during the formative years of the club’s existence – including leadership transition gaps and membership engagement issues, our journey as a club over the last three years has registered more wins than downs. Some of the more significant activities undertaken by the club, include:

  • Our Adopt-a-River partnership with the residents of the Kawangware settlement, which won

    UN Deputy-Secretary General Amina Mohammed visiting the Adopt-a-River project at Kawangware. Photo by Brian Munene.

    accolades from the UN and our District.  This video shares the residents’ quest to restore a clean and verdant environment.

  • The Muguga Forest Run: A fun and meaningful event that commemorates the renowned environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai.
  • September-to-Remember: An eco book-reading event targeting children from underprivileged backgrounds – to ignite the love for reading among young minds and foster eco literacy.
  • Rotary Greening Christmas: An event has also become an annual tradition for club members and their families, who take time during the holiday season to spread joy and take part in eco activities.
  • The Rotary Ecofest: Our annual fundraiser held during the World Environment Day, offers a unique opportunity for our club members, other Rotarians, and eco-enthusiasts in general – to experience a celebration of nature, and revel in eco-themed art, music, dance and games.
Giving Back:

Even though our club is yet to receive a Rotary global grant, we are active givers to the Rotary Foundation, through our club’s #HappyTrees kitty, as well as funds raised through club activities. The growing number of Paul Harris Fellows among our members also stands as a testament to our club members’ commitment to Rotary’s service.

Recognition and Beyond:

These efforts have not gone unnoticed, and during a 2022 visit by the Deputy UN Secretary-General Ms. Amina Mohammed, Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, our club was selected to showcase activities undertaken through the Adopt-a-River initiative, a UNEP-Rotary flagship project. This recognition culminated in an award presented to the club during the Rotary District Conference held in Ethiopia, in May 2023, affirming the club’s significant contributions to the pilot phase of the Adopt-a-River initiative.

Outside of the club efforts, our members have also been actively involved in various initiatives at district and global level, including serving in crucial district committees; participation in the Rotary International Conventions, and membership in Rotary action Groups – notably ESRAG and WASRAG. This exemplifies our commitment to enhancing Rotary’s global reach and impact.

Our Leadership Pillars:

The club has had four presidents since inception, and together with their boards, they have been the driving force behind our club’s growth, and have embodied Rotary’s ideals of service above self.

Our charter president, Mr. Richard Kirundi (2020-2021), laid a strong foundation for the club, using his broad network across the government and private sector to grow the club membership – and more importantly, keep the club intact, and members inspired during the difficult Covid year. He notably promoted creative forms of expressions to communicate eco matters.

The second president, Ms. Leah Wanambwa-Naess (2021-2022), served remotely during most of her presidency. She however tapped into her extensive networks in the eco space, to broaden Rotary’s influence, and help the club secure funding for its first eco project. She also successfully helped the club launch our now-annual fund-raiser titled: Rotary Eco Festival.

The immediate past president, Ms. Wambui Mbarire (2022-2023) took over at a crucial time in our club with dis-engaged members, coupled with governance challenges. She skillfully navigated the club through the rough waters, putting in place necessary structures to get the club back on track – including the review of the club’s by-laws, training of board members, and the establishment of a Governance & Ethics committee, to uphold the club’s integrity, and provide a compass to guide club members’ actions.

Ms. Annyta Gitonga, the current president (2023-2024), is also equal to the task, and she is particularly keen on promoting eco literacy initiatives to nurture a generation of green ambassadors and forge a path toward a more a sustainable future.

A Cleaner, Greener Future:

Members of the Eco-Warriors Rotaract Club winning the prize for planting the most trees at Ruiku Prison during Lavington Eco’s Rotary Greening Christmas event in 2021. Photo by Jane Maonga.

As we look back at our journey as a club, we take pride that we have set a precedent as the first eco cause- based Rotary club in Africa. Through our collective actions, we have contributed to amplifying Rotary’s influence in environmental stewardship across the region, and are on course in our mission to build a green culture in and outside Rotary