Ashoka Remembers Fellow Andrew Macharia

The Ashoka East Africa staff and Fellows were saddened by the recent news of Ashoka Fellow Andrew Macharia’s passing. Macharia (Kenya, 2003) was one of the region’s earliest Fellows; he was elected in 2003 for his innovative community-based waste management and recycling program, The City Garbage Recyclers. This is how we introduced Andrew back in 2003: 

Andrew knows East Africa well. He has been a tour guide, taking tourists to the region's national parks; a projectionist at open-air markets, showing movies from a van he rigged for the job; and a truck driver for a brewery company, supplying beer to destinations in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. For the better part of 40 years, he has travelled from town to town, village to village – meeting the people, learning the local languages, and – unfortunately – seeing the trash pile up along the roads wherever he went. 

In 1993, as he approached retirement, Andrew thought he would try to do what his wife wished: stay put and start a farm. He picked up a few rudimentary composting techniques and began producing nutrient-rich soil from his household trash. In no time, he found himself harvesting from the soil great quantities of beans, maize, and potatoes. Neighbors took notice of the high yield; they came to investigate, and later to buy, the compost Andrew had intended for his own use. Demand for the product – a product made from trash – grew. Sitting on his porch, thinking through what had become, unintentionally, a small-scale business enterprise, Andrew asked himself this question: If garbage can be turned into products that make money, then what are people doing throwing trash away?

(Read the rest of his profile here.)

Macharia, center, hosting a group of Ashoka staff and Fellows from around the world in 2010.

One thing we didn’t mention back then was that before Macharia retired, he was a beneficiary and member of Ashoka Senior Fellow Ingrid Munro’s (Kenya, 2009) JamiiBora, the largest microfinance institution in East Africa. And what we couldn’t have known at the time was that Andrew would go on to nominate to the Ashoka Fellowship a promising young social entrepreneur named David Kuria. (Kuria also worked in sanitation and waste management. He became an Ashoka Fellow in 2006 for his IKOtoilets project, excelled within the Fellowship, and would later go on to win the Africa Social Entrepreneur of the Year prize, a Schwab Fellowship, and the 2010 UN Dubai Best Practice Award.)  A vital member of the Ashoka community, Macharia regularly hosted groups of other Fellows and international visitors. And as one of the more senior members of our local Fellowship, he had the honor of welcoming new leading social entrepreneurs into the community he helped build and nurture. In the photo below he joined Ashoka’s Bill Carter in welcoming Ann Njogu (Kenya, 2009) and other new Fellows from across the region. 

Macharia presenting Ann Njogu (Kenya, 2009) with her Ashoka certificate and pin, accompanied by Bill Carter, Africa Diamond Leader in 2010.

Macharia was a warm, thoughtful, and gentle man. Ashoka Fellow Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi (Uganda, 2009) remembered him fondly, saying: “Andrew was one of the most innovative people I have ever met. We shall greatly miss him but will always emulate his examples.”

Indeed, Macharia’s story is a great example of Ashoka’s “Everyone a Changemaker” vision. His entrepreneurial drive and creative energy was identified first by JamiiBora. With that organization’s  support and, later, Ashoka’s, these talents developed and his bold ideas were nurtured; instead of retiring, he launched The City Garbage Recyclers program, a network of recycling cooperatives and small business ventures that work with city councils to manage refuse. In this new role he inspired, mentored, and helped recruit many more changemakers. Though Macharia is no longer able to tell his story personally to groups of visitors and new members of our Fellowship, we hope many people will continue to learn from and be inspired by his example.