Student Spotlight with Catherine Kipsang

Kipsang - story

Mark Stehle

SOCIAL NETWORKING POLITICIANS: A student from Kenya, Catherine Kipsang, 22, is the co-founder of Givenumbers.com, a social platform launched in June that provides vital information about Kenyan politicians to the Kenyan public.

RIGHT TO KNOW: Kipsang says the Kenyan people lack basic information about their elected officials, such as their policy positions on education, healthcare, and the economy. “It sounds very obvious, probably, to an American, but in Kenya you don’t really have information about your leaders,” she says. “People don’t interact with their leaders. People don’t look at their track record.” She says most Kenyans vote along ethnic lines.

TALKING POINTS: Kipsang says the Kenyan press typically covers what politicians talk about—usually verbal attacks on other politicians—and public officials rarely address issues that are of importance to Kenyans. “It’s always politicians targeting each other and talking about their ethnic background, or [saying] you should vote for me because I come from your community,” she says. “It’s a lot of rhetoric. It’s not very fact-based or research-based.”

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: As Givenumbers.com grows, Kipsang says it will provide a profile of every Kenyan politician, including information about his or her education, background, track record, and any scandals. Kipsang says she and her co-founder are currently conducting research on the elected officials and updating profiles on the website. Eventually, she says she would like to have Kenyan politicians interact with the website and post their policy statements.

MAN ON THE STREET: While at Penn, Kipsang keeps abreast of the day-to-day happenings in Kenya by perusing the news and speaking daily with her parents. “I have someone on the ground who tells me what’s happening locally, ” she adds. “He tells me what the trends are and what we should do, what we should change.”

PROFILE IN COURAGE: Kipsang says Kenya is one of the most liberal countries in Africa, with speech freedoms, but she does expect some backlash. “Our sole protection is the fact that the information [on the website] is true, and the fact that we have a whole community behind us,” she says. “I’m not very scared just because I know that there’s a whole community of people out there who want this information and we’re not doing anything illegal.”

KENYA 2.0: Since its launch, Kipsang says Givenumbers.com has amassed at least 2,000 unique users. “Kenyans are looking for something different, and they’ve said that,” she says. “You can see it on Facebook and Twitter. People are looking for leaders who are actually talking about real data, real issues. So we’re hoping that we can use this opportunity to get people on Givenumbers.com and start the dialogue.”

Originally published on December 13, 2012