Case study: the Kenya Chemical Society

Around the world, there are National Chemical Societies championing and advancing the chemical sciences in their countries.

National Chemical Societies create an important platform for discussion and collaboration, across scientific and international boundaries. And many focus on raising standards in the profession, through training and sharing expertise.

As a collective of over 40 Commonwealth countries, Commonwealth Chemistry has a wealth of experience to offer those countries that do not have a National Chemical Society and are thinking of establishing one.

Here, Dr Leonard Gitu, Chairman of the Kenya Chemical Society (KCS), shares his knowledge of setting up the society and his experience as chairman, and offers advice on what to consider to ensure a successful launch.

Please tell us about your role in the KCS

My responsibilities include the overall general organisation, supervision and control of the KCS national office, presiding over the Governing Council and Annual General Meetings, maintaining inter-regional and international relationships by correspondence and travel, taking vital policy decisions in matters of good administration and efficient management of the Society and perform any other specialised function as directed by the Governing Council.

I am also a member of the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Sound Chemicals Management hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Kenya. The committee’s aim is to strengthen chemical and waste management in Kenya.

The society was registered in Kenya on 19 September 1991. The first Governing Council was elected on 20 February 1992 followed by the inaugural conference in June 1993. The KCS Secretariat is currently based at the School of Chemical and Material Sciences, Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi.

When was the KCS set up?

What were the first steps that you had to take to create the society?

To call upon all chemists within the founders’ networks and convince them of the need to create a society. A draft constitution was then written and reviewed by the interested members. The society was then registered with the Registrar of Societies in Kenya.

The KCS is administered by volunteers. At the national level we have the Governing Council whose positions in the society are: Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer, Organising Secretary and Corporate Representative. The Chief Editor of the Journal of the Kenya Chemical Society and one Secretariat volunteer are also co-opted to the Council. We also occasionally engage students and interns to assist in office duties.

In addition, we have an Extended Governing Council which includes all national Governing Council members and Chairpersons of chapters.

Chapters are administered by Chapter officials comprising of Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer, Organising Secretary and Corporate Representative. The KCS has six chapters across Kenya according to the geographic locations and a student Caucus (youth hub) hosted by our national office, but with a separate administrative structure.

What governance structure does your chemical society have? Is everyone involved a volunteer?

Please explain the membership structure, and any benefits that members receive

Categories of membership are: Ordinary, Associate/Affiliate, Life, Corporate/Institutional, Honorary and Student membership.

KCS membership includes individuals from the chemical industry, academic and research institutions, government ministries and parastatals (government-owned corporations), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

Members usually pay subsidised fees for the conferences and training workshops we offer. The workshops are very important for continuous professional development. Employers in Kenya are very keen to engage chemists who are members of the Kenya Chemical Society.

The KCS is funded by new members’ registration fees and annual subscriptions. We also occasionally receive funding for projects from our partners and collaborators.

How is the chemical society funded?

Tell us why you set up the KCS website

We needed to embrace technology to increase the visibility of the KCS and aid communication. We worked with IT experts to set up our website.

As a result, the KCS has gained visibility among stakeholders in chemical and allied professions. We do online training and can promote these on the website.

Being a member of the KCS is desirable to employers who can use our website to check the status of a KCS member. Our collaborators also use the website for information about KCS and our latest news.

We floated the idea to the Governing Council members who took time to come up with various logos. We deliberated the various designs and agreed the one that we felt best represented the society and circulated it to members for approval. The final stage was for the Council to register the logo with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute.

What prompted the KCS to set up a social media presence?

We found that social media is very effective in reaching out to our members and the general public. Therefore, we decided to set up the KCS Facebook page and Twitter accounts. We also communicate with our members through WhatsApp.

Social media is a very important tool in advancing the chemical sciences. The general population in Kenya has already embraced it so professional societies such as the KCS have been able to utilise social media to reach out to members and recruit new members. A social media presence gives societies the opportunity to get noticed by corporate organisations and any other interested parties.

What would your advice be to chemical societies who want to set up a social media presence?

What would your top tips be for setting up a chemical society?

The chemists who are in the forefront should first get together and draft a constitution. They can involve a legal expert. These founder members should then carry out a membership drive to potential members.

The KCS has assisted with the setting up of:

1. the Somali Chemical Society after three of our Council members organised a Chemical Safety and Security Training workshop for Somali chemistry professionals
2. the Zimbabwe Chemical Society after a short meeting I had with two Zimbabwe chemists during an International Conference in 2019 organised by the Tanzania Chemical Society in Arusha, Tanzania

Yes. The founder members ought to be very passionate about setting it up. And be aware that potential members want to know the benefits of joining a chemical society. Finally, it’s very important to offer regular training workshops and webinars, especially for early career chemists.

Do you have any other words of advice for other Commonwealth countries that are looking to set up a chemical society?

About Dr Leonard Gitu
Dr Leonard Gitu is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

If you are interested in setting up a National Chemical Society in your country, we can provide guidance and support.