Kenya’s Standard Group Limited’s (SGL) Transform Kenya Awards (TKA) are an innovation in the art of storytelling and in celebrating unsung Kenyan heroes who do exemplary things to inspire and facilitate better lives for the surrounding communities. 

The TKA awards were given to diverse individuals who, in some way, seek to improve, change, contribute, or raise the lives of other people. (Two of the nominees who won awards later became part of the World Economic Forums Young Global Leaders programme.)

This programme was born from multiple desires to:

  • Create powerful stories that not only showcase Kenya and Kenyans, but show Africans solving their own problems in their own ways. 

  • Inspire many more people to action by acknowledging the contribution and the value of people who are not usually covered in the media — people other than politicians, CEOs, and business magnates. 

  • Make the Standard Group a driver of social enterprise and goodwill that goes beyond the usual humdrum of politics and dog-bites-man story angles. 

  • Spread hope by helping people to feel that they too have power to direct and improve their own lives and that of those around them. 

The public nature of awards given by the media house amplifies the efforts of the achievers and puts a face on the “often faceless engine of transformation.” TKA not only says “we can as Kenyans,” but shows that “we have done” and “continue to do something about our destiny as people,” says Doreen Mbaya, Standard’s head of marketing. 

Standard issued a public call for nominations through a 360º campaign, receiving 26,000 nominations in response. Following an arduous process in which Standard and its partners measured the degree of transformation primarily by the degree of impact (and the resulting level of awareness), the sustainability of the transformational project, and the improvement of quality of life, the nominations were narrowed to three people in each of 10 “pillars of transformation”: 

  • Lifetime achievement.
  • Agriculture.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Rookie of the year.
  • Media information and access.
  • Tourism.
  • Education.
  • Green.
  • Arts and culture.
  • Health and sports. 

After that, a five-member panel comprised of seasoned professionals and change drivers decided on the winners in each category.

About 700 guests drawn from all sectors attended the awards gala. The effect of having all the heroes together in one room during the awards gala was to create an overwhelming awareness of the sense of purpose of each person receiving an award — ordinary Kenyans doing extraordinary things.

The awards gala aired live on a television station owned by SGL from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. The event also drew a large audience on social media. SGL published a special supplement profiling the TKA 2014 winners and encapsulating the highlights of the awards ceremony. 

TKA proved to be a fairly costly programme, with filters and checks to ensure that winners were carefully and strategically selected, and that they rallied around the cause of transformation at the community level. The Standard Group enlisted five partners to help with the process: 

  1. SGL chose Deloitte as an audit partner to respond to any question of credibility and process audit and to guarantee the authenticity of the TKA process. Its involvement in all the stages also generated public buy-in of the event. 

  2. A research partner was needed to go out and establish the existence of these initiatives and identify the people behind them. 

  3. A knowledge partner (Riara University) was needed to help narrow the nominations down to three in each category, and to remind SGL of what transformation looks like and how to measure it. 

  4. Television teams went to the field to film the projects and the project owners in all corners of Kenya, a radio team helped drive entries and awareness, and a print team created the features and editorial spreads that posted the awards. 

  5. Advertising clients like Kenya Commercial Bank helped with the bills through sponsorship to cover the campaign, research fees, video, nominee trophies, data collection costs from nominee hosting and all over the country, transportation, etc., and direct event costs. 

TKA attracted huge corporate interest, generating US$204,737 in sponsorship since TKA brought to life the bank’s value of caring for the community. 

The Standard Group as an integrated media house has been a launch pad for many journalists to challenge the status quo and creative media managers to do things differently. The organisation has institutionalised innovation in a way that leads to initiatives such as the Nairobian Newspaper, which was developed from a Friday entertainment insert into a full-fledged newspaper circulating at 150,000 per issue in the city — driven by women and a younger demographic that had previously been non-readers.

That innovative nature has also led to a fluid organisation and a flexible workforce that breaks down the silos that sometimes exist among platforms: Radio presenters can also have TV shows, writers of popular youth columns can conduct interviews on television, and a centralised investigative desk is staffed by both print and television journalists. It is not unusual for these innovators to use Twitter and Facebook to magnify the media house events to engage audiences. 

Following TKA, the corporate identity of SGL has grown tremendously; it has taken a leading role in the media industry in pushing a transformational agenda: 

  1. SGL played a pivotal role during the launch of the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation (MSOF), which is improving access to education of disenfranchised children.

  2. SGL is now supporting the Kibera School for Girls, the first tuition-free school.

  3. SGL is working in collaboration with the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) on the Mentenda Initiative, to inspire men to play a bigger role in the lives of boys.