Fresh Unanswered Questions on Kenya’s First Lady’s London Marathon Gimmick
Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta made world history by being the first holder of the title to participate in the London Marathon 2014, and finished the race after 7 hours 4 minutes. Her purpose was to raise awareness and funds to improve maternal and child healthcare in Kenya through her ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ initiative which was recently heavily criticized at the Kenya Stockholm Blog for wasting public resources. (See: https://kenyastockholm.com/2014/04/13/kenyas-first-ladys-beyond-zero-campaign-is-a-cheap-publicity-stunt/)
The London Marathon began in 1981 and has since taken place in the spring of each year. “As a fundraising event, there is no race in the world that comes close to the London Marathon. An iconic image of the event is the thousands of runners traipsing the streets to raise money for charity, many in fancy dress, hoping to stand out as a rhino, football mascot, giant tree, or escaped convict. More than three quarters of competitors now run for a good cause and a third of all entry places are offered by charitable organisations.
The role of charities in the London Marathon hasn’t always been as prominent as it is today. In the early years, it was the runners who took it upon themselves to raise sponsorship money for their causes. In 1984, the London Marathon named its first ‘official charity’ and granted the Sports Aid Foundation some entry places to help their fundraising. The London Marathon has had one or two official charities every year since.
As charity involvement grew, the organisers decided to offer more places to a wider range of charities. In 1993, they introduced the Golden Bond scheme to enable charities to gain places. Under this scheme, hundreds of charities buy guaranteed entries for £300 each, which they then offer to the runners who’ve missed out on a ballot place. Runners who take one of these places commit to raise a four figure sum for their cause, often called a ‘pledge’.
Over the last 15 years, this scheme has grown and now includes more than 750 British charities with a total of 15,000 guaranteed places. Another 550 charities are involved in a Silver Bond scheme which guarantees one entry place every five years. The growth of charity involvement in the London Marathon has been so great the race has entered the record books. In 2007, £46.5 million was raised for good causes by runners, making the London Marathon a Guinness world record breaker as the largest single annual fundraising event in the world. In 2008, that record was broken again when £46.7 million was raised. In total, it is estimated that more than £500 million has been raised for hundreds of charitable causes by London Marathon runners since 1981.” (See: http://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/marathon-centre/history-london-marathon/charity-history/).
No Fund raising functions after First Lady’s race in London
Since 2010, Virgin Money has been the official sponsor of the London Marathon, thus the name “Virgin Money London Marathon”. Its success in fundraising came with the online non-profit launch of “Virgin Money Giving” which assures donors and fundraisers that their money goes to the cause they are passionate about.
A thorough search on the website http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/giving/ gives no hit for ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign. One needs to register a charity here to get sponsorship. Moreover, charities participating in the London Marathon are based in the United Kingdom, although there is an international section on the Virgin Money Giving website. For instance, BBC HARDtalk presenter Stephen Sackur, raced for the charity “Just a Drop” which is an international water-aid charity registered in the UK, aiming to provide poor communities in the developing world with clean water. Sackur runs a page on the website ‘justgiving’: https://www.justgiving.com/Stephen-Sackur which had received £3,435.76 by April 14th from 62 donors.
Why then, did the First Lady choose to participate in the London Marathon? According to information on the Beyond Zero website: http://beyondzero.or.ke/get-involved/2014-london-marathon “To highlight the HIV, Maternal and Child Health challenges facing disadvantaged women and children in Kenya, the First Lady will participate in the 2014 London Marathon. H.E the First Lady seeks to leverage on the global platform provided by the 2014 London Marathon to raise visibility of the issues and, mobilize resources to accelerate access to services.”
Apart from giving a speech in London during a reception by the Standard Chartered Group which donated to her cause, there were no other functions hosted for ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign. The First Lady could have raised more awareness by participating in TV discussions in London if she was serious about the plight of Kenyan mothers and children. However, she also celebrated her 50th birthday by hosting a private cocktail at the posh Chelsea Harbour Hotel in London, attended by her team and some family members, including her mother in-law, former First Lady Mama Ngina.
Could the current First Lady not have begun by visiting all the 47 counties to talk and urge private and public stakeholders to sponsor Beyond Zero without wasting taxpayers’ money in London? Even if her goal is to raise Ksh500 million, how will she solve the growing scarcity of midwives, gynaecologists, doctors and other professionals, urgently required to improve maternal-child healthcare? Last year, Kenyans donated KSh 142 million plus change in 10 days, to support those affected by the Westgate terrorist attack. Nobody wasted taxpayers’ money abroad to run a marathon for the purpose.