Africa Rising was founded in 2006 by Jim Thomas.  Serving in his church as a part-time, volunteer pastor for cross-cultural mission, he had developed a collaboration between his church and a Kenyan church to respond to the HIV epidemic in Kenya. They assisted a community-based organization, Beacon of Hope, which was emerging at that very moment from the Kenyan church. Founded by Jane Wathome, Beacon of Hope was serving women infected with and affected by HIV in a low income community on the outskirts of Nairobi. Inspired by this collaboration, Jim sought other opportunities for Westerners to follow the lead of Africans, and for African leaders to encourage one another. In this way, Africa Rising could lessen the dependency of African organizations on Western donors.

Mary Muhara of the African church became the African Director of Africa Rising, and Jana Piepenbring of the American church became the US-based Director. They began identifying effective community-based organizations founded and led by Africans in East Africa. Over several years, the number grew to 14. Africa Rising would gather them annually to listen to each other’s stories, share skills and insights, and plan collaborations. Several of these are described on the Success Stories page of this website.

Africa Rising was ended in the summer of 2013 after attempting to relocate to Kenya. The move was, in part, to improve funding. When based in the US, donor agencies interested in Africa regarded the organization as American and thus ineligible for funds. However, the African advisors felt the Africa Rising networking model was too unconventional for African donors. They believed that tapping into Western donors was the most reliable path to funding. Although they were right, that model was the one to which Africa Rising was trying to be an alternative.  Having reached an impasse, the board decided to bring Africa Rising to a close. They had succeeded in showing that African organizations can increase each other's impact and rely less on the West, but they had not found a way to make the network financially sustainable. Jim Thomas continues to explore ways of facilitating the work of African social entrepreneurs in ways that minimize dependency on Western donors.