programmatic approach

My first hand experience volunteering with Karimu in Tanzania and how you can help

Make the world a better place in a big way

We all want to do good, and make the world a better place. Doing that properly requires time and commitment, which most of us don’t have. So an easy proxy is to support someone who already does that. More specifically, supporting a worthwhile NGO, whether by volunteering or donating, is a great way to do good.

Unfortunately, finding a worthwhile NGO isn’t easy. In some ways, it’s like investing in a startup (just with a different ROI): there are many of them with noble causes and intentions, but not all of them are executing effectively to achieve these.

Luckily, Karimu is amongst the best, and I traveled all the way to Tanzania with my wife and 4 kids to validate that first hand. It was worth it! Karimu are solving big problems, and are already having a big sustainable impact on the daily lives of 10s of thousands of people, with an opportunity to scale that even more. But they need your help.

How is Karimu different and worth your support

Last July, my wife, myself and our 4 kids (21, 19, 16, 14) spent two weeks in Tanzania, together with the local Karimu staff and other volunteers. We got to meet and interact with the local people, as well as to contribute and review the different projects.

It was very clear that Karimu is having a huge impact, as well as doing things differently (better!). Like many other NGOs, they marked the target as “eliminate poverty”. But unlike many others, they did an outstanding job across:

  1. Identifying the key drivers to eliminating poverty — school facilities and lunch, accessible clean water to everyone, and high quality health facilities and staff
  2. Breaking it up to concrete projects with measurable targets — the local high school went up from ranking 2500 in the country to 3rd (!!!) place, EVERY house is no further than 500m (550 yards) from flowing fresh water, and new health centers attract the best doctors.


Hungry kids freezing in cold dark classes, open to wind and rain — with no windows, doors
or roof — can’t concentrate in their studies

Thanks to Karimu’s lunch program and new facilities, the local high school is now ranked 3rd in the country of 65 million people!!

Children and especially girls are responsible for fetching water. Often walking 2–5 km 8–10 times a day,
carrying a heavy bucket. That leaves no time for school. Moreover, infections and diseases
from polluted water is a major factor for missing school days.
Thanks to Karimu, free fresh running water is now available to all homes in the region —
no more than 500m from any house.
Providing basic health services is key. Building modern and well equipped health facilities,
and training the medical staff are a key pillar for Karimu. From left: outpatient building,
vaccination day, main entrance (maternity on the right and outpatients on the left)
with washing sink so everyone washes their hands before entering the clinic.


The reason they achieved so much is because they operate differently. Nelson Mattos, former VP at Google, is running a very tight ship the same way he ran teams at Google — a bold inspiring mission with a very clear and concrete roadmap, OKRs, dashboards, and top-notch project management. By now, he also built and mentored a local leadership and execution team that can independently operate the day to day at high quality.

The local team of superstars running the operation on the ground


Finally, one last critical principle that makes the whole difference is the focus on sustained impact. Many NGOs spend good time and effort on expensive projects, often white elephants to begin with, and then leave them behind to crumble, rust, and rot — eternal memorials for false promises and arrogance.

Karimu operates differently in two ways:

  1. Rely on the community to identify and prioritise the needs — “no white elephants” policy
  2. Rely on the community and government for ongoing maintenance and accountability — future investment and projects are done only after the community and government demonstrated they can maintain and sustain the previous one. Huge value across multiple dimensions. Many of our volunteering activities were to inspect the ongoing maintenance of the existing projects.


Meeting with all director level staff at the ministry of education (left) and meeting with director
of health quality at ministry of health (right) to discuss ongoing commitment to the projects


How can you help

It was a life changing and awe inspiring experience for the entire family, and the impact that Karimu has had in the region is truly inspiring. However, it’s just the beginning. They are expanding the set of projects (with the same rigor in project selection and execution), as well as expanding to new regions. Most exciting is that they are starting to think about how to package and scale their projects and mode of operations such that others can pick it up in other regions and countries, and help reduce poverty at a much larger scale. However, in order to do so, they need money. Ideally, predictable and ongoing flow of money so they can do long term projects. This is where you can help most. It will probably be the best money you ever spent.

So act now — it’s simple:

  1. Donate please. Ongoing monthly donations of $50 and above are most useful, and create that predictable stream Karimu so desperately needs. These are often tax-free and deductible donations in most countries.
  2. Reach out to Karimu and get involved in the projects. There are many ways to help. I strongly recommend going to Tanzania an experiencing it for yourself. I guarantee you lifelong memories:


Decorating the school buildings together with the students


Volunteering nurses with local medical staff, training in Health Center,
and volunteer nurse examining a sick child


Organising games and movie night at the high school


The kids taking the local “taxis” to inspect the hundreds of water points in the region


I am not affiliated with the org in any way, just with the cause.