How I built the SCANairobi community from the ground up


8 min read

How I built the SCANairobi community  from the ground up

It's a sunny November evening in 2021 when I signed the agreement to be the next SCANairobi lead. I am excited about the role, but my mind is troubled.

Here I am being handed a chance to lead a community whose vision perfectly aligns with what I love, empowering women in tech, but I am filled with worry as I realize not many people, let alone ladies in tech, know about the community!

I am a 'numbers girl' and in data I trust. I interpret data like social media engagements and other analytics as one of the measures of impact, which is how I approach the SCA Nairobi community.

As I take on the community lead position, I realize we have an X (Twitter) account with less than 100 followers. Earlier on, we started a community blog, but analytics show we barely get 10 monthly reads. Not to mention the events we stream through our YouTube channel get less than 10 live viewers.

So, as I take on the leadership baton, I have one goal in mind: I need to make SCANairobi known, and I will use numbers and analytics as the metrics to measure the impact we are making.

To achieve this goal, I needed a plan.

The Plan

In the first quarter of 2022, my plan was simple: I would organize two monthly online sessions for SCANairobi and invite well-known techies as speakers who had impactful content to share. I would encourage these speakers to share the events on their social media to ensure we reach as many people as possible. I also changed our online event platform from YouTube to Google Meet, which would allow attendees to interact directly with the speakers. The plan worked well, and I could see an improvement in our social media engagements; our events were starting to average 25 attendees.

By the second quarter of 2022, SCANairobi was starting to appear in the headlines of women in tech communities to follow. In this quarter, I changed the approach from looking for well-known speakers to rolling out a 'call for speakers' that invited new speakers in tech to speak at our online events. My main goal with this was to make SCANairobi a community that gave techies a platform to try out new ventures.

This was also the drive behind building the SCA Nairobi blog. As I was starting, the blog had two writers who would interchangeably post articles. With time, I decided to make it a community blog that would allow anyone in the community to contribute articles to it, helping them build their writing portfolios. I also wanted the blog to be a source of different types of technical content, which drove the need to form a writing team of close to 10 writers and 2 content editors.

At the end of 2022, I had achieved the key goal of making the community known. Our social media posts were getting a good measure of engagement, we had organized 27 online sessions, and our blog was pushing two articles a month, which raised our monthly reads.

But I realized one problem: I had built a community based on numbers, but I had not actually 'built a community'. To me, a community means an atmosphere where people come together to form long-lasting mutually beneficial friendships and support each other in their growth. A community was not just about the number of people in it but also the connection these individuals made.

While I had managed to make SCANairobi quite known, I had not fostered that deep connection among the members. So as 2023 rolled in, I had a new goal: 'building a community.'

The plan was to organize as many physical events as possible that would allow the community members to meet, get to know one another, and learn from each other through peer-to-peer mentorship.

By the end of 2023, I had organized five physical events averaging 50 attendees, and I could see the more personalized connection that the community members had made with each other.

By the time I stepped down from the leadership position in December 2023, I had 10x our social media engagement, 20x our blog reads, and a community I was proud to pass on to the next lead.

I cannot take full credit for building the SCANairobi community. Alongside me, I had the 'perfect' team that I constantly leaned towards to help with building the community.

The Team

At first, I had 'inherited' the core from the previous community lead but I quickly realized we were not working at the same pace. I needed to reassemble the team and look for people who were willing to build the community at the pace I intended.

Getting this team was not a one-off thing. It took me about 5 months to get what I considered my 'perfect' team.

Monica was the first to join my team. She had been part of the previous core team, and her enthusiasm toward building communities and her extensive experience organizing community events are what drew me to her. She was the 'I know a guy' person for the team. Monica was our resourceful event organizer who had connections to bring in any speaker or get us any venues we needed for our events.

I poached Wambui from another tech community to be our designer when I realized designing amazing event posters was not among the skills I possessed. If you scroll through our X (Twitter) feeds for early 2022, you can tell the exact period when Wambui joined the team. Her designs made a difference in how our community was perceived and created a professionalism that highlighted the vision we held. You can read her reflection on the journey of designing for the community here.

Kinarah was the best thing to happen to our community blog. She was interning at my company when we met and happened to mention her passion for content writing. I was quick to bring up the topic of our blog and hint that I was looking for someone to help build it, a role she was happy to take on. Building a writing team of 10 members was Kinarah's idea. Her pitch was that she wanted to diversify the content shared on the blog and give other writers a platform to build their portfolios.

One thing I was struggling with was building our social media. So, when I met Joyce who was coincidentally part of the She Code Africa Org data science class, I considered her a God-sent answer to my problems. She was happy to help the community in any way she could. It was Joyce who was behind the scenes in growing our social media engagement with her engaging captions and constant posts, keeping our followers entertained.

If you have met Wanjiru, then you probably know why I brought her into the team in early 2023, when the goal was to organize physical events. Having physical events meant we needed to look for sponsors and partners who would help subsidize associated costs. Wanjiru is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to selling a vision. When we met, I knew she was the perfect person to help me pitch our vision to potential partners. While we did not manage to cement as many partnerships as I had hoped, I attribute the success of the physical events we had to her.

From Left: Kinarah, Joyce, Wambui, Me (Esther), Monica. Ps. Wanjiru is missing in this picture :(

The Motivation

When assembling my 'perfect' team, there was one thing I kept highlighting. The positions that these ladies were taking up were volunteer ones, and I was barely offering anything in return. So I encouraged everyone to have a 'personal reason' for volunteering, or what I considered an 'ulterior motive'. Everyone was volunteering their skills, time, and efforts and working behind the scenes to build a community, and chances were no one would ever recognize how much they put into this.

It was essential to have a personal motivation for volunteering that was independent of the validation of being part of the team. This could be something like adding the role to their portfolio, developing some skills, or even getting a chance to do something good. I believe this is what made my team 'perfect' for me. While we all had shared goals for the community, everyone had a personal motivation that pushed them to always show up.

Being the SCANairobi lead was never a walk in the park. There were a lot of challenges and a lot of hurdles and lessons along the way, but I would categorize my tenure as a success. I achieved the goals I had for the community, which was my main motivation to step down.

One of my favorite quotes by PLO Lumumba is:

A good dancer must know when to leave the stage

I stepped down when I met another lady whose vision for the community surpassed what I had in mind. Someone who I believed would take SCANairobi to even higher ground, Maryanne.

Key Takeaways

If I could give you key takeaways from my experience building the SCA Nairobi community, I would sum it up in 5 points:

  1. Have a goal for the community

  2. Make a plan to achieve this goal

  3. Take your time to look for your 'perfect' team

  4. Define your 'personal' reason for volunteering

  5. Build an actual community; don't just focus on the numbers