Friday, February 5, 2010

{world domination}


Julie got an email from a friend last night who lives in Brazil.

She was walking down a busy street in Rio, rocking her Ssekos.

A total stranger approached her and asked excitedly, "Are those Ssekos?!?!"

Said stranger had received a pair herself for Christmas. They stopped and chatted for about 15 minutes about Ssekos and compared notes on how they wear/tie them.

Really? Strangers in Rio, just chatting about Sseko.

Pretty fun.

Stranger in Rio, if you are reading this, make yourself known.


{innovation or bust}

{innovation or bust}

Julie and I were at the workshop yesterday getting ready to begin the official training for the Sseko 2010 class.

We were all sitting around, chit-chatting, waiting for the last girl, Betty (hold your horses, you will meet her soon) to arrive.

In the middle of our chatting, I looked over at Topesta (another one of our new young ladies), who was casually playing around with the way we fasten the anchors beneath the sandal.

“What are you doing over there, Topesta?”

She looked up timidly at me, and I realized that she looked a little nervous, perhaps afraid of a pending reprimand.

I took the sandal from her and exclaimed, “This is brilliant! This is employee innovation, here!”

I quickly realized that the phrase “Employee Innovation” was a bit lost on the crowd.

Now a little something about me, I sometimes get a little overly excited about those “teaching moments” in life. ( I pity my future children. 'Not again!')

“This right here, what you did, this is innovation. People invent things all the time. And that is great. But unless we continue to change, grow and refine those things and ideas they become antiquated and irrelevant. You took an idea and changed it. You might just have made it better.”

I went on to explain that they were not just here to make sandals. That they are co-creators of this product, this brand, this community.

So the idea was born. We then went on to discuss how to evaluate innovation. For this particular situation we broke the evaluation into five categories:

1.) Quality: How will this affect the strength and overall quality of our product?

2.) Comfort: How will this affect the comfort of our product?

3.) Time: How will this affect the amount of time it takes to make our product?

4.) Cost: How will this affect the cost of production?

5.) Aesthetics: How will this affect the design and aesthetics of our product?

We went around the room and each girl gave their opinion on each category. I’ll be honest, at first it was a little painful. There was so much timidity. But question by question, we watched as these young women slowly started to believe that we wanted to hear their opinion. That each of them had a voice. And that as a part of this team and community, they were expected to exercise that voice, to contribute, to become co-creators.

After evaluating, we decided that there was enough reason to continue to explore this option. The next step would be to create a proto-type. (Yes, prototype. Lesson numero two. Sometimes I tend to overindulge.)

So we made a sandal to see if all this conjecturing we had been doing was actually on the right track. Right there and then. And then we took it for a little test run. Literally. (Well, brisk walk.)

The excitement in the workshop was building.

Nex was an experiment in democracy. (Yeah, yeah. Lesson number three, so sue me.) We took a vote. Julie and I included, we all voted. We explained that in this community, although we each have different responsibilities, every voice has weight. So we voted.

And we decided unanimously that the idea was worth pursuing. We all did a little celebrating. And we officially gave Topesta The Innovator of the Day award.

{Now, if you feel inspired or warmed by that story, feel free to stop reading now. But for full disclosure purposes I will continue with Act II: The Morning After}

When Julie and I left the workshop that day, we instructed the girls to continue making the sandals with the new method.

When we arrived the next morning we noticed a little something that had slipped by us the day before. And that something was not a good something. There was a little glitch that was caused by the new method, and because of that, we had to toss about 30% of the sandals that had been made that afternoon.

And then we noticed that there were another 50 pairs of sandals that were works in progress, that would have to all be undone to avoid said glitch. Julie and I had a little conference and came to the conclusion that this was the only option. Until some other things changed in our production, we had to go back to the old way.

We dreaded telling the girls. Yesterday had been such a beautiful picture of growth and creativity.

But this is the nature of innovation.

You take a risk. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t that excitement and energy seems like a nostalgic memory from the past. And you feel like you are back at square one. At square one with a bunch of dud sandals and discouraged young women.

But the thing is, innovation isn’t about the end.

The product. The system. The method.

It is about the process.

The process of humbling yourself to realize that everything can be made better.

The process of finding your voice.

The process of becoming a co-creator.

The process of realizing that to create is to risk.

But to not, is a far greater one.

{the time has come}

Well. The day has come. For any one who has talked to me in the past 2 months, there was probably a peculiar longing in my voice that likely could have been attributed to my excitement for our new Country Director to arrive in Uganda.

Well the funny longing voice is gone. Julie has arrived. Julie will be supervising and managing most of our Uganda side logistics. This includes everything from fancy meetings with Parliament members regarding export regulations (Monday) or trudging ankle-deep through the narrow, muddy paths of Owino market looking for tools to revamp our workshop (today.)

As I sit writing this, Julie is decorating our room with cool vintage record covers. Oh, how I appreciate a girl who puts some elbow grease into her aesthetic surroundings. Even if it is a kind of janky room in the middle of East Africa.

And she loves organization. Can you sense a trend in the type of people I tend to hire?? Like grandma always said...Hire your weakness!! (Note of disclousure: My grandmother never actually said those words, but I am sure someone's did.)

Oh. And she laughs at most my jokes. Pretty hard. Could this get any better??

Here are a few words from her to you. I'm sure you will be hearing much more. Enjoy!

Dear world wide web,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Julie Beckstrom. I have brown hair and blue eyes. I love things like coffee, headscarves, traveling, the occasional reality tv show, etc. I hate things like tea, wet socks, boring things, and waking up early. I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining Sseko, living in Uganda, and working with the girls. I’m excited to combine my love for this place with the mission of Sseko. Plus, I get to work with some adorable shoes and even more adorable women. I’ve just started on this journey, but I get butterflies when I think of where it may take me, and I’d love to keep you posted on the way there! That’s all I have for now…I wouldn’t want to overwhelm you since we just met, but you can expect to hear more from me before long.

(**this picture was taken right before Julie hopped, scratch that, THREW HERSELF OFF, the world's tallest bungee jump. what can we say? the Sseko crew is full of risk takers***)

{girls day out}

Ok. I know I have told you all before about our rockstar Sseko girl called Mercy. Mercy was from our first class of Sseko ladies. Well, now she is in University. She studies engineering and just gets the biggest kick out of numbers and computer programing and all the stuff that gives me the heeby-jeebies.

Mercy is now our first Leadership Intern. For those of you that are not aware, we are working towards a vision to implement more career specific professional opportunities into the Sseko experience. In a few words, we envision that as Sseko grows we will have a "three-tiered" program.

The first "level", as you all know, is pretty simple.

Make sandals, go to college.


The second level is to continue our relationships with these young women throughout their time in University and use Sseko as a more career-specific leadership "training ground."

This is where Mercy comes in. Instead of making sandals for round two, Mercy is now working with Sseko in a leadership position. Essentially, we are training Mercy in all the basics of small business management. From shipping logistics to training employees to working with suppliers and communication via email...

**Wait what??? Mercy just got a gmail account. I love gmail. And now we can...wait for it...G CHAT!!! How great is this???? Please take a moment to rejoice with me. Just. So. Fun**

Mercy has just blown us away. She has been such a huge part of our operations here on the ground. It has been so fun to see her grow from a bright but timid new high school graduate, to a confident business-woman-in-training.

Which leads me to level number three. Once the girls have completed University, it is our hope to then bring them back to Sseko in a full time leadership capacity. Obviously, being that we are in year numero one, we are a little ways out...but I thought I'd splurge and give you a sneak peak.

ANYWAYS...back to the bat cave...

Today, I got to steal Mercy away to spend a little time with her before the new class of ladies arrives on Wednesday (what what!).

Oh Internet, it was so fun. We had a little ladies day out. I surprised Mercy and took her to get a pedicure as a way of thanking her for all her hard work. She was pretty ticklish--but a true champ for her first ever pedicure.

I am counting down the days until Julie, our new Country Director arrives. It will be fun to have a third partner in crime. The three amigos we will be. (Hopefully. I have never ACTUALLY met Julie, but we will be sharing a bed. And mosquito net.)

{my favorites, so far}

ok. truth be told, one of the reasons Uganda has stolen my heart, is because, gosh, i just laugh a lot here. here are some of my favorite quotes so far:

1.) Upon seeing me for the first time, my friends in the Cornerstone office exclaim, "Eh!!! Leeez! You are so bright!!" At first, I allow myself to believe they are referring to my generally cheery disposition. Perhaps the unmistakable glow of a newlywed? Alas, they continue, "You are so white! Have you put a white powder on your skin?" Mind you, last time I saw them I said goodbye with 4 months worth of African sun on my face. This time, I arrive after just having left my zero degree, snow ridden home.

2.)While looking at our wedding pictures: "So, Leez, is it a custom in your country to wear no make up and do nothing fancy to yourself except for a white dress for the wedding? Your hair here, it looks the same as now." Awesome.

3.) I love Ugandan advertising. Here is my favorite so far. This was a slogan from company that sells cables (like cords/wires). Mind you, this is their slogan, it appears on everything: "We still don't have every kind of cable, but we might have the cable you want."

Hope you enjoyed. If you like, you come visit. You are most welcome.

{lesson learned}

Hi from Uganda!! For those of you who are not already aware, I am currently in Uganda--getting ready to hire our next round of Sseko girls! Yay!! I am anxioulsy awaiting their arrival on the 17th. People, I just can't wait to meet these girls. But in the meantime I am preparing for their arrival doing less exciting, more businessey things.

Today was my first day on the ground. Although it has been over a year since I was last here, everything is wrapped in this wonderful, comfortable sense of familiarity. The friends, the smells, the sights and sounds. It feels like I just left yesterday. I anticipating feeling this way. For some reason, there is just such an odd sense of comfort I have in this place. But in that, I am trying to make a concerted effort to see things new. I don't want to assume I understand. There is so much to learn from these people, from this place. I want to use this time to continue to grow, to be challenged.

Well. In the spirt of learning and openness, I learned a big lesson today. A nice little cultural lesson that after all my days in Uganda I have NEVER heard. I was roaming the massive fabric markets looking for our next season of Sseko straps--(hot dog, did I find some good ones!) when I come upon a lady eating fried chicken.

Here is a little something about me that Rick Steves would not approve of. I love street food. And anyone that knows anything about traveling will probably advice you that it is just not the wisest thing to eat street food (food cooked..well, on the side of the street). Especially meat. Maybe it is my iron stomach. Maybe it is my longing to be immersed in the culture. I don't know exactly what it is, but I love me some street food. So, my natural question to the lady behind the counter, chomping on chicken is,"Where did you get that chicken?" She smiled and pointed to a grocery bag full of fried chicken.

"For 800 (shillings), I give you a piece of my chicken." Well, that is a no brainer. I never resist an opportunity to stimulate the local economy! Sure!

Internet, this was some of the best friend chicken I've ever had.

But I digress.

Continue scene:

Me, wandering through the massive fabric markets, fried chicken in hand.

And I was REPRIMANDED, not once, but TWICE by two seperate gaggles of women. I mean, full on, drop-jaw, finger-wagging, tisk-tisk, gasp-inducing reprimand.

Not for eating less than kosher street meat...

But for eating and walking. At the same time.

Because today I learned that a "proper lady" NEVER eats and walks. Men? Ok. But never a 'true lady.'

(Did I mention that I just bought greasy fried chicken, in a grocery bag from a stranger?)

I resisted to tell them that few people in my life would put any stock in the chances of me becoming a "proper lady" someday, even minus my eat-walking offense. But nonetheless, I quite appreciated the lesson.

Who knew?

Ann Landers would be proud.

{the newest addition!--not a baby}

Dear Internet,

Please meet Cameron. Cameron has officially joined the Sseko team as our Lead Ambassador. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a Sseko Ambassador is essentially a rep and spokesperson for Sseko. Ambassadors put on sales events on their campuses and in their communities and generally spread the Sseko love to the people around them. We invited Cameron on board to take ownership over this program and help us organize and mobilize this network of Ambassadors across the world. Cameron lives in Texas, but I often wish that I could call her up and have her come hang out with me at my home/office/dining room table and help me organize my brain. The girl's got some passion and shoot--she follows through with precision and speed--which is something I am sure we could all do a little better. I am so pumped about building our team with stellar people like Miss Cameron Crake. It is a little taste of the community that we are passionate about creating, not just in Uganda, but right here in the ol' U.S of A. You should christen her new Sseko email account and give her a warm hello at :)

Here is a little something Cam wants you to know about her. It is always kind of awkward when someone asks you to write about yourself. She is champ.

Cameron is a self-professed economics nerd. She got her start in development work with HOPE International, a microfinance organization. Cameron is incredibly passionate about redeeming business- using it to make the world a more beautiful place. It is Sseko’s unique business model that impacts both the lives of these girls in Uganda and the consumer that initially drew Cameron to the company. She was an Ambassador this past fall and is beyond excited to get more involved with Sseko and the Ambassador program.