Burnesser Saburi Chirimi, a Nairobi native, has been advancing social change from our Nairobi office since July 2014. In this interview conducted by Julie Mankowski, we get a glimpse of the projects Saburi works on, the impact they have, and why she calls her bike “Chuck Norris.”
Tell us about some of the work you do with Burness and the projects you work on.
We have a big focus on agriculture. We work with many groups including the Kenya Markets Trust, Agri Experience, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). We also partner with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). They work with different people and organizations across Africa to improve livelihoods of farmers by providing what they need, whether it’s seeds, fertilizers, policy change or agricultural practices. Our goal is to help them improve smallholder farmer fortunes and livelihoods.
My favorite project was with Land Development and Governance Institute (LDGI) around November of last year. LDGI works to inform the public on matters relating to land, which is very important in Africa as it is intertwined with identity. We helped disseminate information and drive attention to issues around land and natural resources through a social media campaign that used crowd-sourced cartoons from local artists. We worked with the digital team in the US Burness office to help develop the website and create momentum on social media. We got quite a number of partnerships just from running that campaign. People became interested in learning more about what LGDI does. It was a different and interesting way to relate to the issue.
What is one thing you love about working at Burness?
I love the informality! I like Burness because the focus over here is on the work, not on rules. We focus on what brought us here. If you are a company that mass produces products, there is no heart in that. Because of the agricultural stories we promote, you see results and you see the government taking a bit of notice on the agricultural agenda, or small NGOs getting grants as a result of work on the ground with a farmer. That’s impactful.
We hear you are a bike enthusiast! Can you tell us a bit about that?
In Kenya, biking is different than in the States. In the States, kids are with all of that protective gear: helmet, knee pads, training wheels, mom is there yelling at you. In Kenya, I was taught by older neighborhood kids how to ride when I was seven years old on a neighbor’s bike that didn’t have a seat. I just stood! I have scars and bruises to prove it.
Now, I have a bike I call Chuck Norris because I’m tough enough that I’ve tamed him and can ride him. I ride it to work every day when the weather is favorable. It’s about a 15-minute ride. The longest I have ever ridden is about 30 kilometers (just over 18 miles) just for fun. I like to ride for the view, not for the distance.
What is a childhood memory you have from growing up in Nairobi?
When I was about six years old, my school was not far from where I lived, so I would walk to school. One day, I told myself that I had had enough of school and I wouldn’t go in. Instead, I would just sit at a corner by the road side until it was time to go home. So I walked some distance from home, far enough where no one could see me and just sat there. In those days, parenting was a social responsibility. A neighbor saw me and said, “Aren’t you going to school?” and I said, “I’m going.” He kept looking back as he walked away. Sure enough, the neighbor snitched and told my mom that I was by the corner. So my mom came and she did not do anything at the time, she just took me to school. But that evening, she said, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.” After that, I realized that this woman meant business. I went to a private school because public school wasn’t – and still is not – the very best, and she was not throwing all this money for me to sit at a corner. From then on, I always sat in the front of the class and I always contributed. I got a 3.61 GPA. Thanks Mom!