Ellen Sprenger spoke to Mukami Marete, the Co-Executive Director of UHAI about their organization’s journey of financial growth.  UHAI Eashri (UHAI means life in Swahili) is Africa’s first activist fund. From its inception in 2009, the fund works to achieve equality, dignity and justice for sexual and gender minorities and sex workers across Eastern Africa and other areas of the continent. They do this through grant-making, capacity-support, research and convening. UHAI’s vision is: To live and embody revolutionary love.

Spring engaged with them in 2014 and again in 2016. UHAI had a clear intention and plan and used the principles of the FIRE program to help realize this vision. It helped inform their donor engagement and diversification strategy to significantly build revenues and capital assets. Capital assets include their reserves as well as the value of purchased buildings.

Revenue and Asset Growth

UHAI has made inspiring progress in five years:




% change

Revenue Growth $USD

$1.9 million

$3.6 million

+ 90%

Capital Assets Growth $USD

$0.4 million

$2.2 million

+ 450%


Donor Diversification

UHAI has successfully raised grants with few or limited restrictions. Funds from government and INGOs have decreased, and funds from private foundations and individual donors have increased.

UHAI’s FIRE Journey: Conversation with Mukami Marete

It feels like a lot of effort to be as financially diversified as UHAI is? Is it?

It was a deliberate move from the get-go.  We were focused on the long-term and we knew that it was a long walk. We had an end goal around sustainability. It is like Wangari Maathai used to say: You have to keep at it until it gets rooted”.

What were your specific intentions?

Our big picture goal was to cover our operating costs by our own income. We no longer wanted to have to negotiate overheads, and costs like our staff salaries with our donors. So, we knew we needed 30% of our costs to come from our own income. We are well on our way and hope to reach this goal in the next five years.

What was the strategy behind the capital assets growth?

Right from inception, we have fundraised and built relationships with funders who gave us grants that we were able to keep any gains on exchange or interest earned from bank deposits. In 2014, with support from some of our funders, we launched our individual donors' fundraising in the US. We diligently put any funds not in immediate use in interest earning fixed deposits as well negotiated for the best exchange rates for funds we were converting to Kenya Shillings. We started in low-risk investments and began to get returns. Then we used some of the funds to buy a building, and then an apartment to rent out for income. This was possible because our donors, all private foundations, were able to see our long-term vision and wanted to be a part of it.

So - unrestricted income was important?

Yes absolutely. Private foundations especially are open to giving unrestricted funds. Government funds are much more restricted, as we all know. We put all our money to work. And we have relationships with banks, making sure that all our money makes money.

How did you diversify to get individual donors?

We created a legal entity in the United States. One of our most successful efforts in individual fundraising was in 2015 when a Kenyan artist based in New York City helped us host a fundraiser auctioning artwork, mainly by African artists. But this kind of aggressive individual donor fundraising takes a lot of work. We have to visit New York a lot.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Maybe we should have invested more in digital fundraising. Now with COVID, that would have been good to have in place.

Any advice for other organizations?

We have always asked funders for what we wanted and what we needed. And what we knew we deserved. And they have given it to us. We can negotiate - it works. Be courageous.

There are many different FIRE journeys, each rooted in unique contexts with specific steps, challenges and successes. What they all have in common however is a clear vision and intention, with investment in critical capacities and milestones. UHAI’s journey is one of those journeys to help inspire you about what is possible along the way.