Lucy Kanu

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2007
Idea Builders


This profile was prepared when Lucy Kanu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Lucy is leading a new approach to community development which takes into account the full process of empowerment. By maximizing local ideas and capacity, creatively engaging partners, and ensuring replication, she is able to overcome the same challenges faced by other efforts in the region: Becoming sustainable and scalable. In Nigeria’s challenging and often corrupt environment, many development projects fail to establish sustainable impact; those that do take root in a single place often fall apart after a few years and do not expand. Lucy knows that the aspirations and strengths of the community need to be the starting point and has designed a process that builds on local ownership. The result is not just an autonomous economic development “program” that is transferable, but empowerment and skills development that strengthens communities in the long-term.
Lucy uses a chain of strategies to prepare communities to utilize new resources and increase their earnings without breeding dependence. In her pilot project, for example, Lucy worked with a cassava-producing community to utilize improved varieties of staples from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Root Crops Research Institute–Umudike (NRCRI) and the State Agriculture Development Agency. With their surplus output, Lucy and the farmers started a milling operation and began to produce/process and market cassava flour. Realizing the potential of working up the value chain, the village women then organized peer-led baking classes and revamped an abandoned bakery that serves the immediate community, neighboring markets, as well as wholesale markets. The producers now run a cooperative with limited support from Lucy’s organization and are training other communities to replicate this approach with other commodities.
Conscious that the spread of this approach cannot rely on her alone, Lucy addresses the issue of replication in three ways. In each project, she partners with Youth Service Corps volunteers to place them as ongoing accountability partners who can also document and analyze results. Regionally, participants such as the women from the cassava pilot are trained to travel and teach the approach to other communities—and to charge appropriately for their knowledge. Nationally, Lucy has built a representative advisory board which guides replication in each of Nigeria’s thirty-six states.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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