In 1964, a young man from Pittsfield, MA, fresh out of Brown University with a degree in political
science, arrived in Nairobi, Kenya to begin his Peace Corps assignment as a settlement officer for a 600-family agricultural
project. Little did Tom Giddings know that Africa and its people would capture his heart and that twenty-five years later,
he would still be dedicating his skills and creativity to helping thousands of low-income people in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda,
Zaire, Sudan, Tanzania and Nigeria.
Following his Peace Corps assignment in Kenya, Tom was named Associate Peace Corps Director in Ghana
and from 1967-1969 he developed and supervised programs involving community development, agriculture, credit unions and cooperatives.
He also established a successful cooperative program in Cameroon.
Tom returned to school in 1969 to obtain a masters degree in Public Administration and Economic Development
from the University of Pittsburg in 1971. Following completion of his masters, Tom coordinated the College Discovery Program
at Montclair State College, an alternative education program offering college preparatory work for educationally and economically
disadvantaged servicemen and women.
The Early TechnoServe Years
In 1974, TechnoServe was very fortunate to hire Tom as its Country Director for Kenya. He was TechnoServe's
first full-time director in Kenya and he had his work cut out for him. The original TechnoServe office was located in Kisumu
in western Kenya. The focus of the program was agricultural enterprise development in Western Kenya but Tom also had to spend
time in Nairobi, 200+ miles away over poor dirt roads, establishing TechnoServe's position in development with various Kenyan
and international agencies. Frequently, Tom would put in a full day of work in Nairobi and then drive to Kisumu over poor
roads, arriving home after midnight.
When Tom became Vice President for Africa for TechnoServe in 1985, his trips were even longer as
he shuttled back and forth from his home in Nairobi and TechnoServe's offices in Norwalk, Connecticut. Tom would frequently
board the airplane in Nairobi around midnight and show up at the office at 4:00 PM the next day, having been on airplanes
for eighteen hours.
Tom Giddings was a man of great compassion. Tom loved Africans, and he loved Africa. He would eventually
spend nearly a quarter of a century on that continent helping the poor, not in a paternalistic way, but rather in a manner
such that all would feel a sense of self-realization.
Tom was a man of great skill. He himself directly managed one of TechnoServe's biggest and most complex
projects, the Malaba Malakisi cotton gin oil seed processing and soap making complex in Kenya. The cash income of thousands
of poor Kenyan farmers depended upon the profitable operation of Malaba Malakisi. Tom took over when the enterprise was losing
money. After a year of extremely hard work, Malaba Malakisi turned a profit, and the farmers were the beneficiaries.
In later years, Tom had to fight for the right to work with other rural Kenyans and their dream of
bringing water to their homes and farms. For years, the members of the Ngorika Water Society had fought government bureaucracy
and a lack of funding to make their dream come true. The project was not originally viewed by TechnoServe management as a
community-based agricultural project and Tom had to persuade the company to initiate assistance to Ngorika and a similar project.
Tom won and in January 1990, right after his death, the water was turned on.
The 320 families participating in the project are now able to walk into their front yards and turn
on a tap which provides clean water for the family and their livestock. Another 600+ families are currently waiting to be
hooked up to the system. The wife in the first family to be hooked up to the system no longer has to walk 10 kilometers per
day to obtain water for family and animals. She sold milk from family cows over a period of months to pay for the connection.
Now, with an adequate water supply, her cows are producing more milk and she can use the money to support the family. 65%
of the households have 10-30 people utilizing the water with another 16% having more than 30 people using the water.
The members of Ngorika now have a source of clean water at their homes; their equity investment will
pay for the maintenance of the system; the society employs local people in bookkeeping and system maintenance; and the participants
no longer need to rely on the government and other outsiders. Their health and the health of their animals have improved.
This one significant project will benefit over 17,000 people.
Tom was a leader. Virtually everyone who came into contact with him admired and respected him They
appreciated his integrity, his willingness to listen and the effort he made on their behalf. Any colleague or individual with
whom Tom worked received the benefit of doubt, as long as Tom felt that person was not abusing someone else, or their self-interest.
Laughter was often heard in Tom's corner of the office.
Tom was a man of great perseverance and energy. The development effort in Africa is a difficult and
demanding one. Tom never gave up, and he successfully brought into being hundreds of rural enterprises as a part of his work
with TechnoServe. In 1989 alone, TechnoServe's Africa Division assisted 62 projects. Through his efforts to expand TechnoServe's
work in Africa, a flegling program in Tanzania is taking shape. A new program in Nigeria which will work with thousands of
women is growing stronger.
The memory of Tom is still very strong in TechnoServe. His influence is seen everywhere as his colleagues
continue to follow his ideal of helping Africans learn to help themselves.
Ed Bullard 1990