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An early education in development

Ellysar Baroudy's picture
This World Bank staff member, from a traditional Maasai pastoralist family in Southern Kenya, is helping to ensure that indigenous people have a seat at the table when it comes to forest conservation and climate change.

The story begins a world away from Washington. Nicholas Meitiaki Soikan — or Soikan as he’s known to most — was the sixth of seven children in what is considered a small Maasai family from Kajiado county in Kenya.
As a young boy, his mornings were spent herding livestock, mostly cattle that he had names for and considered his pets. He and his siblings went to primary school in shifts, so that meant Soikan’s turn to study was in the afternoon, often under a large acacia tree.

For Soikan, his days of studying and herding were the easy ones. He says his community started suffering the effects of climate change in the late ‘90s, as extreme weather conditions became more common, and more devastating.
“In 1996, we lost 75 percent of our cattle due to drought. The next year, intense rainfall brought disease that killed hundreds of our sheep and goats. The smell of dead sheep was unbearable. I never smelled anything like that in my life,” says Soikan. “For us, we saw climate change through the eyes of our animals. We tended them, fed them for years. It’s always so painful to see them die.”
It was perhaps perspectives like these that led Soikan’s community to see great potential in him. His community agreed to sell livestock to pay for his undergraduate degree in social work from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Kenya. Soon after, they helped him again, to become the first in his village to achieve a master’s degree, which he did in rural sociology and community development at the University of Nairobi.
Soikan’s community, in turn, was his primary motivation to study.
“I’ve seen how my community has been left out in a lot of important discussions. Were we not counted? So, I saw education as the way I could elevate my community,” he says.
Soikan’s education and pastoralist background have opened doors for him across the world. For more than 10 years now, he has been an advocate for the engagement of indigenous communities through a variety of local and national conservation initiatives in Kenya; at two UN organizations focused on climate change and forests, and since 2010, with the World Bank. He’s currently a member of the Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience team and works specifically on the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF).
Throughout much of this work, Soikan’s focus has been on how to meaningfully engage indigenous communities in efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, and enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries (commonly known as ‘REDD+’). For Soikan, one of the most promising aspects of REDD+ is the conversation it opens up on issues vital to indigenous peoples’ livelihoods.
“To fully benefit from REDD+, indigenous peoples’ rights and traditional knowledge have to be recognized. They tell the story of their forests better than anyone else,” says Soikan.
As part of his work at the Bank, he manages a REDD+ capacity building initiative for indigenous peoples and civil society organizations in Africa. This program, financed by FCPF, is particularly notable because it doesn’t follow the ‘business as usual’ model of funding at the country level, but rather uses a rigorous process to select and award grants to local organizations who then manage their own forest and climate change training activities to meet specific, community-driven needs. To date, recipients in Africa have used some of the funding to host a learning exchange event in Cameroon on sustainable forest management best practices in Central Africa, and to support research on the role of traditional knowledge in respect to indigenous women and climate change adaptation.
The value of now being able to advocate for these communities from within the World Bank is not lost on Soikan.
“My message to indigenous communities is to keep informing the World Bank, especially at the national level. They need to engage the Bank so that initiatives are respectful of their cultures and do no harm to the environment, livelihoods and to them as a people.”
Life has recently come full circle for Soikan. In July, he returned to his village in Kenya, where he was made an official community elder in an elaborate ceremony known as Orngesherr, which is only performed once every 15 years. Now, with a homestead and cattle of his own, and a duty to mentor community members, Soikan says the time has come to start thinking about working on World Bank projects closer to home.
No matter what Soikan goes on to do, there’s little doubt the World Bank is better off for having his passion – and his voice – at the table.


Submitted by Prof.C.Jahdishan on

Fantastic! We need a SOIKAN. in every village/ Distric/ State across the globe to protect the environment & reduce deforestation and plant trees!
Great initiative by WB/ SOIKAN.

Congratulations to such initiatives!!


Submitted by Vincent Saitabau on

A good piece. There is no doubt that such initiatives impacts on livelihoods and prolongs life for indegenous communities. The question that arises is, how do we replicate this efforts in our own small ways?

Submitted by Soikan Ben on

Bravo bro we must learn how to conserve our environment and do alot of afforestation.msy God enlarge your territories

Submitted by Ole Sapit on

You remain a trail blazer that has provided both inspiration and support to many to make a difference in their own ways. Keep up Apaayia.

Submitted by Jacob Mayiani on

He’s truly a force to be reckoned with and we are grateful for the opportunity and platform to communicate these matters that directly affects the livelihoods of his community. Job well done Araapa.

Submitted by Viviana Orbora on

Job well done, Babangu! Keep it up! Tibiko naabik ldonyo to always be a voice of our people!

Submitted by Sharon Tonkei on

He is truly an inspiration to many whatever he gets his hands on is surely a success.The great initiatives he has help put in place to conserve the environment and stop climate change will surely be appreciated by generations to come.. We are so proud of you.

Submitted by Jackson sorora on

This is a great and a brilliant piece. Keep up soikan. your an inspiration to many man.

Submitted by Leah on

Good job Soikan, we are all proud of you. Thank you for representing our community well, and thanks to the WB for giving you a seat at the table. Our voices and points of views are important and valuable, and indeginous communities are grateful to have people like you represent them. Congratulations!!

Submitted by Joy Kakenya on

Soo encouraging! Bravo Soikan.Am one environmental buddy you are an inspiration to all of us

Submitted by Kirisua martine on

That's a master piece of a well educated young maasai son.keep up the good job

Submitted by Dr Sabuni Alex on

Very inspiring indeed. It is also important to mention here that WB had been on the forefront in promoting environmental and social safeguards in its project areas. This is to ensure that indigenous communities are not marginalized further, while environmental sustainability is well planned for before, during and after sub-project implementation. A good example is the WB funded Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project in Kajiado and other 13 counties. Through your effort SOIKAN and the rest, this is already being implemented!

Submitted by Sawoyo T Leonard on

Truly inspirational and above all extremely true, Keep it up Lentiegi / babangu. May God expand your horizons far and wide.

Submitted by Habiba Gitay on

Brilliant and great representation. Proud of you soikan

Submitted by Ole sailoji on

My bro.that's brilliant. For you who got that opportunity to express the minorities group's rights and education to conservation move on an be our voice in the the world noting,from forest to wildlife there are massive challenges that need reddress.

Submitted by Esianoi on

Shine beyond the stars! We from the village hold you high and are proud you. Keep up the good work, you have a bright future ahead of you!

Submitted by Habiba Gitay on

Awesome Soikan!It feels good that there is someonenough speaking for the indegnious communities.
Keep moving
Always my role model!

Submitted by Stephen saitet on

Thumbs up! what a legend you are. thank you for giving back to the community and the society. do it timelessly and tirelessly and God will never abandon you. we are proud and we love you. Kudos! uncle

Submitted by Sharon Sabato on

You are a true inspiration Soikan. Your outstanding leadership qualities and your passion for good service will never go unnoticed. I am proud to be your mentee. Keep it up big brother!

Submitted by Leonel Iglesias on

Soikan is also an excellent example of friendship going beyond office duties:)

Submitted by Viviane on

What an inspiring story Soikan! Hats off! Thanks for sharing Ellysar!

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