This year, the Institute of Social Ministry in Mission, at Tangaza College in Nairobi, celebrate 25 years since its foundation.
The story of the Institute of Social Ministry in Mission (ISMM) begins with one great visionary, a Comboni Missionary, Father Francesco Pierli. He had completed his term as the General Superior of the Comboni Missionaries in 1991. In the following year, he landed at Tangaza College, in Nairobi, and began to teach missiology.
By then, Tangaza Centre for Religious (TCR), as it was known, was basically a seminary for the theological education of future priests belonging to missionary religious congregations. Fr. Francesco, however, challenged Tangaza to commit itself to preparing lay people for ministry in Africa. This was directly an inspiration from the first Special Assembly of the Bishops for Africa, which took place from April 10th to May 8th 1994 in the Vatican.
The Board of Trustees not only accepted the proposal of the ISMM, but it also changed the scope of TCR to move towards a University College, offering academic programs in education and social sciences, besides theology and spirituality. The Diploma in Social Ministry was launched in August 1994. In November 1995, the ISMM was approved by the Tangaza Board of Governors as an integral part of Tangaza College.
As the ISMM is ever open to the world at large, in 2010 another Bachelor’s program was approved by the Commission for University Education: the Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Human Development. All these academic programs have been informed by the Social Teaching of the Church, and have been operationalised, first through the ‘see-judge-act’ methodology, and later by the Pastoral Cycle.
Nothing could stop the dreams of Fr. Pierli. He went on to launch a Master’s degree in Social Ministry, the first postgraduate program at Tangaza. This was in 2009, the year of the Second Special Assembly of Bishops for Africa. After almost a decade, in 2018, another Master’s degree was approved by the Commission, this time broadening Social Ministry to a Master of Arts in Social Transformation.
In 2010, after a two-year negotiation between Tangaza College/ISMM and the Catholic University of Milan/ALTIS (Italian for: Alta Scuola Impresa e Società), a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to enable the ISMM to offer an MBA in Social Entrepreneurship, beginning in January 2011, and accredited by the Catholic University of Milan.
At this point in the history of the ISMM, it is important to recognize the contribution that Pope Benedict XVI gave on the eve of the Second Special Assembly of the Bishops for Africa, which was about to take place. In fact, Pope Benedict is known to have encouraged the Catholic University of Milan to start something concrete in Africa and for Africa. For five years, the two academic institutions collaborated and contextualised the Master of Business Administration in the African context. In order to launch this experiment in other African countries, E4Impact (Entrepreneurship for Impact) was founded and launched. This institution combines academics and social entrepreneurship to deliver some of the Sustainable Development Goals. Currently, collaborating with universities in eight countries across Africa (Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia), the project delivers a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in social entrepreneurship. What is interesting to know is also the fact that it was in one of the MBA classes at Tangaza that the formal name ‘E4Impact’ came into being!
Besides the relationship with E4Impact, which has formed a global alliance, the ISMM brings into the Tangaza community several opportunities of networking and linkages. To offer technical back-up to the networking initiatives of the ISMM, the Social Ministry Research Network Centre (SOMIRENEC) was founded in 1999. This Network Centre has now become an independent structure.
Social transformation at the grassroots has to be effected also by means of advocacy at the levels of governance and policymaking. With this in mind, Fr. Francesco initiated a spiritual chaplaincy program among the Catholic Members of the Parliament of Kenya, known as Catholic Members of Parliament Spiritual Support Initiative (CAMPSSI). (Sahaya G. Selvam