Though Kennedy Odede’s story has humble beginnings—the community leader grew up in the sprawling slum of Kibera in Nairobi—those experiences equipped him with a deeper understanding of the complex, intersecting challenges that have plagued his community.

At TIME’s inaugural Africa Summit and Gala in Kigali, Rwanda, on Friday (Nov. 17), Odede was honored with a TIME100 Impact Award for his contributions as the founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, a Kenyan grassroots organization that supports and empowers millions of residents in slum settlements across the country. As he received his award, he dedicated it to the people his organization works with every day.

“For me, I’m most comfortable with the community in the informal settlements where I work,” he said. “Bringing together members and groups to advocate for their rights—that’s my kind of gala.”

At the same time, says Odede, being a voice for this community matters now more than ever, especially considering that the world’s urban population is projected to reach 6 billion by 2045. “Without the capacity to handle this growth, urban poverty will explode,” he warned.

But Odede isn’t given to doom and gloom. He ended his speech by reminding the audience that an urban renaissance is on the horizon. “If we empower, if we bring out their innate talent, then we can not only survive but thrive in this urban spring,” he said.

Also honored at the gala was American actress Ashley Judd, who received a TIME 100 Impact Award for her years-long efforts as an activist, humanitarian, and advocate for victims of abuse. Judd was unexpectedly unable to attend so the host of the evening, South African television presenter Bonang Dorothy Matheba, accepted the award on Judd’s behalf.

Matheba spoke of Judd’s love for Africa, which she has “adopted as her second home” by spending part of her year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a research camp devoted to the study of the endangered Bonobo ape. “Ashley finds the Bonobos inspirational because they live in an egalitarian, matriarchal society… she says they give her hope,” Matheba said.

The TIME100 Impact Awards Africa are sponsored by Visit Rwanda, Kigali International Financial Centre, and RwandAir

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