Wednesday, September 2, 2009

{mercy me!}

Can I just say....


Last weekend, we had one of my favorite Sseko events so far.

Why? you ask. Was it the location? The choice wine? THE GIANT WHEEL OF BRIE YOU ATE SINGLE-HANDEDLY?

Although the brie was a close second (what I wouldn't do for exhorbitant amounts of cheese...) the best part about this event was the connecting.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my husband about Sseko. He asked me this question: If Sseko could be really, really good, the very best at one single thing, what would it be? After some brainstorming, we decided that the thing we want to be our priority at Sseko is connecting.

Connecting people to the people who made their stuff.

Connecting young Ugandan students, with American students in the same stage of life.

Connecting people with communities across the globe.

Connecting people with the communities in their own backyard, that they may not know exist.

There are people you pass everyday. And there are people, across the world and in your own zip code, that you will likely never pass.

And those people, the ones whose paths you likely will never cross on your own, those are the people we want to connect you with.

Because those are the people who will make the little worlds we have created for ourselves a little bigger and a lot better.

And that is exactly what I got to do this pass weekend.

Terri Stipanovich and Nicole Nowotny of St. Louis, hosted a great party, inviting lots of women in their community. Our vision was to connect these women to the young women in Uganda. To show them that where the spend their money matters and always makes a difference, for good or for bad. To help create an awareness of women around the world, the issues they face, and things we can do here to support them.

But then, we took it a step (no pun intended) further. We teamed up with a local women's ministries that serves women in all walks of life, but specifically those struggling with eating disorders, drug abuse, self harm, and unplanned pregnancies. The head of the Mercy home in St. Louis came to speak, and a few graduates from the Mercy program joined us at the party.

Then we gave the women at this party an opportunity to buy Ssekos. Not only for themselves, but also to give as simple gifts to the women of the Mercy home. The response was overwheming. When we left that night, every single girl at the Mercy home had been spoken for. It was so wonderful to see how such a simple thing, a sandal, could not only connect these women to the Sseko girls in Uganda, but also to the women in their backyards.

The next morning, I had the privelage of taking the sandals to the Mercy home. We sat with the girls, ate breakfast, shared stories. I had the opportunity to tell them my story and the story of Sseko. Then we gave them their sandals.


It was pure mayhem.

There were fabric flying and squeals of delights. The girls kept coming up with these GREAT new ways to tie Ssekos that I had never seen! These women were blown away to know that there are women in their own community who care about them and what they are going through.

My favorite part of the whole morning was being approached by a particular young women. I had noticed her earlier in the morning. She was very quiet and kept mostly to herself. She looked cautious. After I handed her a pair of Ssekos, in a quiet, monotone voice she said, "Can I give you a hug?"

"Of course!!!" I exclaimed, probably a little to energetically for a normal human.

She hugged me and then said in a voice with no more expression than the first time, "Consider that an honor. Because I don't like to hug. But I do love me some shoes." She cracked the tiniest smile and walked away to lace up her new kicks.

Julianne Fogt, director of the St. Louis Mercy home!

The beautiful feet of some Mercy girls!!!

If there are some women in your own backyard that could use some love (and I promise you, there are) and you think a brand spankin new pair of Ssekos could make their day, lets chat. Email me at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

{Summer Lovin}

Dear Internet, for the last couple of months you have had the pleasure of hearing from our Sseko Summer Intern. I was so excited to have Kelley on board for the very beginning. But dear golly, has she exceeded any expectations I had for our first in-country intern. Interns to come, (more on that later) I am just going to be honest, you have some pretty big Ssekos to fill.

I was 100% transparent with Kell from the get go. I shot straight with her and told her that when I said I was looking for a "self-starter" that wasn't just the phrase my finger landed on when I flipped through the "Phrases to Use In a Job Description Handbook."

I told her that her time in Uganda would likely reflect what my time looked like. And that time was filled with trial and error, often frustration. It was an experience I would never change, but also not one that I would throw just anybody's way. I knew it would require someone willing to take risks and to get knocked down.

It turns out, when you are a young woman starting a small business in a foreign developing economy, with a primary workforce of young Ugandan women who you hope will leave your company 9 months after they started to pursue university...well, no one is telling you what to do or how to do it. You learn the hard way, and there is almost a guarantee that you will spend some amount of time wandering alone through some muddy market, thankful for the pouring down rain that disguises your tears.

I told her that her responsibilities would cover a lot and be erratic at times. From fabric buying to quality control, Kelley would be my go-to for issues across the board.

But the most important thing to me, was to send someone who I was confident would love well. Would love the Sseko girls and the ones they loved. Someone who would allow herself to be loved. To grow and to be changed. And I am so blessed and excited to report, that she did just that.

So. Without further adieu, here is the last update from our BEST EVER SSEKO SUMMER INTERN. Enjoy.

It was a night that had the makings of disaster written all over it… Beginning with the Boda Boda ride from hell (everything I mean everything went wrong-no gas, got lost, knicked by a matatu, hit every pothole… the list goes on) It almost made me turn around and not go see the girls. To top it off, I fell asleep to the sound of heavens know what creature gnawing through the wall. I asked Mercy what it was and she just replied,

“Don’t worry. You have a mosquito net. It won’t be able to get to you”

“Mercy, that thing is chewing through plaster. Do you really think a mosquito net is going to do anything?”

“We’ll find out tonight, won’t we?”

This night, this quirky little night, was hands down the best night I’ve had in Uganda.

We had a sandal deadline to meet so we were burning the midnight oil (literally… the room we worked in had no electricity and all we had was a lantern and oil). I knew it was going to be a late night so I came well prepared with the most essential items:

Eclairs.Caramel.Toffe.Mountain Dew.

Every package of candy I pulled out of my bag provoked a louder shout of joy from the girls. We all had a fantastic sugar buzz and were working hard (only breaking for an Éclair or two or twenty) when Rebecca took a swig of her soda and declared; “Now we are doing the Dew.” (That quickly became the catch phrase of the night. We were doing the Dew for sure.)

I think it might have been a mixture of the sugar, caffeine, and fumes from the glue, but I had just come from aerobics and we needed a break … so… I led some aerobics on the front lawn… at midnight. It eventually turned into an impromptu dance party (Mary is a pretty darn good dancer), which evolved into karaoke performances from the front porch (the light worked perfect as a spotlight).

Dancing under the stars in the middle of the night, I was so overwhelmed by how much I have grown to love these girls. They have completely won my heart. I stopped and just watched them smile and laugh and was filled with such joy. It reminded me so much of our first night together and I realized just how far we had come.

I know these girls.

Mary has these bouts of sassiness and antagonizes Rebecca to no end, Mercy loves one on one conversation and is always learning incredible things, Rebecca is so reserved, but her facial expressions tell all.

I know these girls.

Mary is going to be an incredible mom. She is fantastic with children. Mercy has a hunger for knowledge and is wise beyond her years. Rebecca is so intelligent yet possesses so much humility that you might never know.

I never thought we would get there and we did. I don’t know when it happened, but I fell hopelessly in love with these girls. They became friends that I cherish. I’ve laughed, cried, cooked, danced, cleaned, worked…lived with these girls. I know their hearts and they know mine.

Those sweet moments of dancing and laughter were such a manifestation of the journey we had made this summer. It was the realization that these girls are forever tied to my heart.

That creature could have gnawed through my mosquito net barricade… and I’d still say it was hands down the best night.

Friday, August 14, 2009

{but mom said it isn't polite to flash}

In the latest Update from our intern in Uganda, Kelley sheds a little light on some hilarious tid bits of life with the Sseko ladies. gosh. I love these women.


I’ve been initiated into the late night flash club. This is a big deal. You have no idea. But, it’s probably not what you’re thinking… In Uganda, a flash is basically the ding-dong ditch of the phone with positive connotations. It’s a compliment to have people dial your number; let it ring twice, then hang up. The later you receive a flash, the better (in my opinion). Let me give you a little history of my experience with the flash.

I discovered it the first night I spent the night at the girl’s school. We said our goodnights, tucked in our mosquito nets and snuggled underneath our blankets. I was starry eyed and all smiles as I drifted off to sleep. About an hour into my jet-lagged sleep, I was abruptly awakened by one of the girl’s phones. I didn’t think much of it and started to fall back asleep… until five minutes later…another ring…and then another ring…. all….night…long The strangeness of it all climaxed when the rings were going simultaneously with the rooster at 4 A.M. I couldn’t help but start laughing. I put my hands on my head, took a deep breath and tried to bury my head in the pillow and just block out Africa for a few hours.

The next morning I did some detective work and slyly went through the call history on their phones. Each of the girls had received a minimum of fifteen phone calls that night! I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation for why they were receiving phone calls from such a wide range of people- from Grandpa Pap to Cousin Suzie to Friend Brenda, so I brought it up casually during tea and g-nuts…

“So… last night…. Did something big happen?”

“No, not really, why?”

“Well, it seemed like your phones were ringing all night. Is everything okay?”

“Oh, sure. Those are just our friends calling to say hi.”

“Oh, of course. I see.” (I tried to act like this was perfectly normal and that of course my friends in the States call me in the middle of the night to say hello and catch up or better yet just let it ring and then hang up! They smiled and nodded and we continued sipping on our tea.)

“So…is there a particular reason your friends and family members like to call you so late at night?”

“Well, it’s because of the 99% discount. Between the hours of 2 and 6, all phone calls are 99% off so it’s about ½ a shilling to talk for like an hour. So, this is when everyone catches up on life news. It means someone is thinking of you!”

I had no response to this. I just started laughing at the absurdity of this discount policy.Those people at the cell phone company have no idea what they are doing to Ugandan’s sleeping patterns!! I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a heart to heart in the middle of the night? I realized I would have no friends and my family would hate me if I had been raised in Uganda. I’m not too pleasant when my sleep is interrupted.

I don’t know what happened, but I eventually became jealous of the late night flash. I wanted someone to flash me! The girls refused for such a long time because they didn’t want to wake me up in the middle of the night. I got flashed all day long, but never at night. I let the subject drop for a few weeks and had really forgotten all about the flash until one night… you guessed it… my phone rang at 2 A.M.!!!!!!! Mercy was flashing me. I let out a squeal of delight. I'm in! I was ecstatic to stay the least. I never knew so much joy could come from being woken up by a phone call only to have the person on the other end hang up. Welcome to the late night flash club. It’s just as good as I thought. I think I might just bring the tradition back to the States… better put your phones on silent :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

{another great excuse to visit Portland}

It has been on my list of places to go. Now even more people to see!

I had the pleasure of meeting KJ of Global Sistergoods last week. Here are a couple of things that are neat-o about this company:

1.) Started by sisters. That's just fun. (Alex, if you are reading this, take note. I WILL hunt you down upon college graduate to work with me.)

2.) Great vision. Global Sistergoods looks for and sells beautiful handmade work from women all over the globe.

3.) They are based in Portland. Which to a Midwesterner like me, means automatic neat-0 points. Sigh.

4.) She likes beer and coffee. And if I go to Portland I will join her for a little of both.

Please take a second to check out their website. There is just a lot of great stuff from home decor to clothing to gifts.

It was so refreshing and encouraging to chat with KJ about her adventures in Not-Just-For-Profit business. Great to know that it CAN be done. But also to be forewarned that two years down the road I will still probably be in hyper-learning-oh-my-gosh-what-am-i-doing?? mode.

Please check out their website. And their blog that features a recent interview with Sseko!

If you think they are as nifty as I do, let them know!

Monday, August 10, 2009

{first ever Sseko giveaway!}

hello to all you cool cats out there.

i am excited to announce that the Budget Savvy Bride is doing an awesome Sseko giveaway on their website!!

Pick out your favorite Sseko style and go to to comment on the blog to enter. You can also Tweet about it and post about it on your own blog for additional entries. There is no limit to how many times you can enter!

The winner will get a pair of Ssekos with a pattern and solid pair of straps of their choice!

Let the games begin!!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

{the 80's are back}

The latest update from our RockStar summer intern:

I’ve had “Girls just want to have fun” stuck in my head for the last week or so. Belting it out in the shower, rocking out to it on my Ipod, hoping there’s a techno version that will play during aerobics class. It’s been all over my psyche. I don’t know why. I’ve got a hunch that it might possibly be kind of connected to the girls. I blame them. They could probably teach Cyndi Lauper a thing or two because; well, these girls know how to have fun. They are simply always laughing. I thought I laughed a lot. I met my match-they outsmile, outlaugh, completely outdo me. It’s quite tiresome to try to compete.

We got to spend a day on the town (Kampala that is) on a massive fabric shopping spree. When I told them about our outing they were ecstatic to say the least. Shrieks of joy and giggles followed by a scurry for cute outfits so they could look their best on our shopping adventure. I asked the girls if they could handle Kampala, and Rebecca responded, “I know we can handle Kampala… the question is can Kampala can handle us?” (side note: I really really really love these girls. Especially during moments like this.)

We went into town in style, walking down a dirt road and running for cover from the dust whenever a truck would pass by, boarding matatus (think old school mini van with 15 Ugandans crammed inside), hopping on boda bodas (think jumping on the back of a Ugandan’s motorcycle for 50 cents and weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds to reach your destination). There wasn’t a dull moment to say the least. We had a great time in Kampala. The girls loved being away from Matugga and just being in the city for the day. Every chance they got they told me how much fun they were having (as if the all smiles weren’t testimony enough). I think my favorite moment of the day was on the matatu ride home. We were all trying to eat ice cream and the matatu was bouncing around like crazy, hitting every pot hole so that none of us could get our spoons in our mouths. We had failed attempt after failed attempt of getting that ice cream in our mouths. We all just started laughing, harder and harder with every bump we hit. Most of the ice cream melted before we could eat it.

We arrived home with absolute perfect timing. Literally, the second we stepped foot inside their room, it started pouring down rain. It was a deafening roar of rain on the tin roof so we all just huddled together in the room, smiling and just being together. Dancing with no music. Singing with no radio. Laughing about…. nothing. Having fun with… nothing. Take that Cindy Lauper. We wrote the book on having fun.

Monday, July 20, 2009

{do you like me? circle yes or no}

Here is the most recent update from our Awesome Possum summer intern, Kelley. I hope you read with as much enthusiasm as I did:

These last few weeks have felt more like the beginning of an awkward middle school relationship than anything. Uganda and I really really like each other. From the moment we met, we’ve been flirting and laughing almost nonstop. It’s been fantastic. However, when we sit down to talk, we’re both fumbling around to find common ground. There are so many barriers that prevent that connection that I know is there. Somewhere. Usually we just end up sitting across from one another smiling and laughing like two giddy eighth graders.

My time with the Sseko girls has quite accurately captured this journey for understanding.

I’ve spent numerous hours with these girls and I love every minute of it. We talk and laugh and have a wonderful time together. But those walls are still there. Miles of Atlantic Ocean and a few hundred years of history have sort of influenced the places we’ve grown up. We’re different. There are so many things that I don’t understand about them. Case in point-how four girls can share a room and not fight. I pressed Mary for a good twenty minutes when it was just the two of us, trying to get the juicy details and she just laughed and gave a very Mary sort of response, “I’ve learned to value these girls as much as I value myself. When you do that, you have no reason to fight.” (I couldn’t help but have a flashback to a freshman year fiasco while she was talking- it might have been over clothes or maybe it was high heels?) They can’t fathom a room to themselves; I can’t fathom sharing everything my entire life. Entitlement meets selflessness. I’ve never been more aware of the influence of American ideals on my life as they meet a very different set of standards. Not everyone lives like we do. It’s funny that I had to come halfway around the world to believe it.

Breaking down those walls takes time. That connection is there. I see glimpses of it when we laugh about the same things (which is usually at my expense while attempting to peel matoke or do the kaganda dance or sing a heartfelt version of Total Eclipse of the Heart). Maybe you can never knock down cultural barriers, but I bet you can climb over them and meet in the middle, which I think we’re doing…and I’m really excited.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

{g-nut butter, jelly}

(...for those of you who have not yet had the privelage and honor to taste a g-nut, it is the Ugandan version of a peanut. only the older, way cooler, tastier, purple cousin...)

here is an update from our Summer Intern, Kelley Swartz:

"We had a sleepover Ugandan style last night. It was complete with a power shortage and no electricity, singing, story telling, intense games of Spoons, dancing, and much laughter. They taught me the Kiganda dance and I, in return, taught them the peanut butter jelly dance. We shared “life news” as they call an update on personal matters that evolved into discussing life dreams and aspirations. I quickly picked up on the incredible character that each of the girls possess. Rebecca is strong. Mary is wise. Mercy is discerning. All three of them possess the ability to articulate profound truths in the simplest phrases that stay with me for days. Mercy was describing her desire to become an Engineer, and the type of classes she would be taking at University. Ever the history and english lover, her course sounded painful to me and I simply responded, “That is going to be hard.” And Mercy quickly responded, “Everything is hard” to which Mary softly added, “But God is able.” I have only been with these women for a few days, but I’ve already come to realize that they have changed my world and it will never be the same again. "

**Please note that the fabric around Kelley's waist is there to accentuate her "lady hips" during the Kiganda dance. Ah, I have such an affinity for cultures who like their women to look like...women**

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

{sseko US headquaters}

a couple of days ago i sat down for an introductory meeting with a potential accountant. among other typical business related questions he asked, "where is your office located?"

i promptly replied, "the west side of the dining room."

he proceeded to ask, "and your distribution center?"

Easy. "The dining room closet."

Here is a peak into what we affectionately refer to as HQ.

come by and visit! and please, don't be deterred by the high-security cornea scan at the front door. when you pay $475 a month for rent, you have to protect your assets.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

{Houston, we have arrival}

The very first Sseko Summer Intern has landed.

She just sent me an email.

It had a lot of exclamation marks, and self proclaimed dramatics. But it was all happy :)

She has already had a chance to hang out with the Sseko girls.

I am unbelievably excited, with a hint of jealousy.

Will keep you updated on her adventure!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

{confucius et al.}

i am pretty miffed.

i heard a saying today that has got me a little riled up:

"give a man a fish and he eats for a day. teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime"

which is totally ripped off from something i always say which is:

"give a girl in a developing country a fish and she eats for a day. teach her how to make sandals, educate her and empower her so that one day, she owns a business of her own. now she has more self respect, respect from her community and an income. statistics show that she is likely to reinvest 90% of that income back into educating her family, meaning her children are more likely to be healthy, educated and empowered. there are over 600 million young women in developing countries. let's give them more than a fish."

get your own catchy proverbs, confucius.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

{ flora and fauna }

last night, i watched Planet Earth with my new husband. (one of our favorite past times)

to celebrate our new life together, we thought we would start back at the beginning of the BBC series.

it starts out at the poles, describing the lives of the animals barely surviving the harsh winter. turns out the mortality rate of baby polar bears is 50%. half of the little guys don't make it through the winter.

then it moves to the rain forest. there is a shot of this hilarious bird, doing this hilarious dance. then he runs around, picking up his living space, making it look nice and tidy.

while i was getting quite a kick out of this, the narrator said something that struck me deeply. he explained that it is because life in the rain forest is plentiful, that the bird has the luxury to dance and decorate. "Because there is enough..."

He then goes on to explain that although the rain forest only occupies a measly %2 of earth's total surface area, it claims %50 of the entire world's animals and plants.

that is astonishing to me.

really astonishing.

those numbers are strikingly similar to some other equally astonishing numbers:

According to World Institute for Development Economics Research, the richest 2% of the adults in the world own more than 50% of all household wealth in the world.

It is not that there is not enough.

World Poverty.

Intrinsically overwhelming.

A seemingly insurmountable issue.

What do you do when there is simply not enough to go around?

I have NO idea.

Luckily, we don't really have to figure that out because there is enough.

There is enough.

I just finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography about Paul Farmer, a doctor who works in Haiti and is passionate about the poor.

He explains a Haitian proverb, the Haitian peasants' perspective on poverty and suffering:

"God gives but doesn't share." -- God gives in plenty, but it is the job of his people to divide it up.

There is enough.

What are you doing with your enough?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

{...summer lovin...}

i am pretty thrilled to tell everyone about some exciting summer news for Sseko. think about all the things that make you feel gooey and happy about summer. for me this consists of:

1.) the sandlot
2.) lime popsicles
3.) death defying rope swings on hinkson creek
4.) summer sleds (my first viable invention: a skateboard with a sled duct taped to it--then someone stole my idea AND NAME and started selling it on Nickelodeon, but I digress...)

now, the only thing that is better than a conglomerate of all this summer happiness is....

Sseko's first summer intern...traveling to Uganda!!!

kelley schwartz is the first official international Sseko intern. kelley is a senior at the University of Missouri. she is a little fire-cracker with a heart for traveling, social justice and love.

all things Sseko loves.

she will be going to live in Uganda this summer to help with all things Sseko. we will be keeping you up-to-date on all the exciting happenings (and likely, mishappenings) when kelley embarks on this adventure.

the most exciting part of starting Sseko has been the amount of people who want to be a part of the Sseko movement. artists and excel-types and everything in between. it is fun to see that manifest in people who are excited about being a part of our vision...even if that means hopping continents and getting a couple of immunizations.

it is important as we continue to grow and share our story, that people stay connected to the heart of Sseko. i couldn't be more excited to send kelley to uganda. i am excited about the way she will be changed when she experiences first hand the women and the culture that i have grown to love so much.

it just makes me a happy happy clam to think about the way Sseko is providing opportunities for young, American college students to connect with young, Ugandan, university students.

these bridges are what Sseko is all about.

we invite you to use your paintbrush, your excel-equations and your storytelling to build bridges with us.


Monday, May 18, 2009

{...mos happiness!...}

more exciting news!

we are on the first leg of the e-commerce journey...


you can buy Ssekos online!

we are up and running with PayPal, which means you can pay either through your own Pay Pal account or with a credit card.

We are nearing the end of this first batch of sandals, so if you like any of the current patterns, get them while they're here!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

{...oh joy!!...}

this made my day yesterday:

walking through the parking garage to get to the bank and i was stopped by two 9 yr old (ish) boys. their joy was BUBBLING over as they both (simultaneously) told me about how they just found two four leaf clovers. and something about how they chased a chipmunk ("did you know chipmunks are good luck?!?! well they are.") and it lead them to the four leaf clovers!!! before i could say much they were off to go use their good luck.

oh man. it just literally made my day.

THEN today, I got a little four leaf clover of my own, in my inbox.

Tyler sent a little video of the Sseko girls.

they are getting ready to apply to university...(YAY!!!) and we decided that as a bonus to reward them for all their awesome work, we would pay for their application fee...

this was their response:

oh joy!


P.S. At one point Tyler's computer told him the video would upload in 6 days. Oh, Uganda :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

{...happy feet...}

a new, happy, morning on the Sseko front!

Sseko sandals are finally, actually, really for sale!

last night was awesome. i sat around a house with lots of friends, trying on sandals, looking at pictures of the Sseko girls in Uganda. we laughed about how fiery Rebbecca is and Mercy's funny way of saying, "Oh my!" to just about everything.

i just can't tell you how exciting it is, to see others get excited about the very thing i am so passionate about. my friend Molly, oh gosh, she just gets so excited about the vision of Sseko. she wore her new shoes last night and at one point squealed with delight and said,

"oh! i feel like they are a part of me! i feel like i know these girls!"

we kind of laughed at Molly in her squeals of delight, but really, what she expressed is something that speaks volumes about the way we want to change the way people see their "stuff".

we all know people have the propensity to be quite attached to their stuff. it's why people park their fancy cars in the back of the lot where no one will scratch it. it's why awkward tension exists between roommates when she asks to borrow that one dress. it is why the American consumer is arguably one of the most powerful forces in our world right now.

we protect our "stuff" because they tell people a lot about who we are. we feel connected to our belongings sometimes to the point where they feel like a part of ourselves.

what if we strove, not necessarily to get rid of that connectedness, but to change why we feel that way? last night, Molly was so proud of those sandals. and she felt connected to them, attached to them, because she knows exactly how her wearing those sandals is directly changing the lives of Mercy, Mary, and Rebbecca. she knows the story of her stuff, and she is proud of it.

our website should be up and running really soon, but until then, if you want to get your Ssekos (we only have about 60 left in the states!) for $40, you can email me at with your shoe size, address and color choice, and we can send them to you right away!!

here is a look at what we have a currently have available...

keep in mind that these will change, as the fabrics are never the same at the local if you see one you like, get it while we have it!!

{popeye green}






{tea time}

Thursday, April 30, 2009


"wait. so are you a non-profit? or a for-profit?"

that's a question i have gotten a lot. and this question serves to reinforce the common mentality about the mutual exclusivity of these two spheres.

non-profits & for-profits.

you do good. or you make money.

and right now, that is about how it works. some companies make money. and then do some good with the profit.

but let me tell you, doing good and making money at the same time is hard. largely because of the dichotomy our society has constructed. choose one: do good or make money.

let me shoot straight with you. the way Sseko Designs runs is pretty inefficient. from our production process, to our supplies and by golly the logistics of producing in a country that...doesn't really produce. in order to use this business to fulfill our end goal of getting these young women in college, we have to make a lot of decisions that increase our costs, our production time, our frustration.

one solution: send our business to china. manufacture these sandals for 1/10th of the cost. send a portion of the money back to Uganda.

why not? making money...then doing good.

but that is not where our heart is. our heart is in integrating these two things.

the primary goal of a business is to make money, to increase value for shareholders. and you know what? that is not at all a bad thing. our world wouldn't work, we wouldn't have medicine and food and roofs if investors didn't invest in people who had a loyalty to these shareholders.

and up until this point, it has been this loyalty, the loyalty to maximizing profits that keeps the bottom line as the reigning king.

but what if we lived in a place where the story of a product increased it's value enough to counteract the costs of doing business in a way that is socially proactive?

what if the excitement of buying a product that directly changes lives was a greater benefit than the higher costs incurred in the way we do business?

what if the word of mouth benefit that comes with a socially proactive business was exponentially greater than the cost of traditional advertisements?

what if our society valued products that have a story, that contribute to communities, that were made in a way that gives honor and dignity to those making them enough that in fact, we were increasing the value of our product and fulfilling our loyalty to shareholders, while doing good?

well then, we would live in a world where companies like Sseko Designs would have millions of brothers and sisters in the family of Not-Just-For-Profit business. We would be one in a sea of others seeking to identify needs around the world, and seeking to fulfill those needs, to change the world by creating socially proactive, sustainable, creative businesses, with the purpose of improving lives.

we want to sell sandals. we want to see these young women become the leaders of their countries.

we also want you to join us by supporting Sseko Designs and making socially proactive and not-just-for-profit businesses become the status quo.

we want to change the way you see your "stuff."

all "stuff" has a story. be aware and proud of the story behind your stuff.

{ ...the lightbulb moment...}

{this is also from my time in Uganda}

Alright. So, the time has come. This post has been like a little bug in my ear (which is serious symbolism when you live in Africa and often wake up to...well, bugs in your ears...) for weeks now.

But this is coming from the girl, who in a single twenty-four hour period is convinced she is going to: go to law school, become a mid-wife, start an ad agency, do voice-overs for cartoons and move to Switzerland to become an ice-climbing instructor. Needless to say, I have a lot of ideas, and they don't always come to fruition. So I got nervous about this one. I felt like I needed to hit that magic (is it 12 weeks?) mark before you can tell everyone about your bun in the oven. So here is my bun in the oven:

I've spoken a lot in the past months about socially proactive businesses (again, i've written about this before, so I am not going to go into detail). And talking about it is pretty fun. On a lot of different levels I am drawn to this business model. But no one likes a big blogger who doesn't actually do anything :) So, that is where I tell you that I am starting a business. A socially proactive business. And golly, I am pretty excited about.

There will be more to come, but I will give you the real-quick low down. The organization I am affiliated with has started a Leadership Academy for young women around the country. They receive over 900 applicants a year, and only choose 25. They come from villages and tribes and clans across the nation, and purposefully recruit young women from tribes and clans that have a history of conflict. Not only is this school a great education, the main focus is leadership training and character development. They teach principles of reconciliation, commitment, servant leadership, integrity and virtue. The Leadership Academies are the cornerstone (no pun intended) of Cornerstone (the organization I am with). The vision of Cornerstone is very focused on developing the next generation of leaders in this country and these schools are one way in which that is being done.

Since coming to Uganda, I have had the privilege of spending some time out at the school.

I (woops) kept some girls up a little late, sitting in a hut, teaching each other songs, talking about how to change the world.

I listened to their stories, heard about their families, their childhoods, their dreams.

Many have lost one or both parents from things including the Lord's Resistance Army rebels and AIDS.

Many come from dire poverty.

But all have shown a will and desire to rise above their circumstances.

I had a great conversation with one young women who wants to be the first neurosurgeon in the country. Others who want to pursue a career in politics, education, entrepreneurship and the arts.

These are the women who will change this country.

If there is one thing I have learned while being on this trip, it is that I cannot change a country in 3 months. I have little to offer. But what I can do is support those who are going to change this place. To do whatever I can to enable them to change their world, their country.

So, these girls graduate from the Cornerstone Leadership Academy in December and will not begin University until the fall. This nine-moth gap is intended to give students time to work and start saving money for college. However, this is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

Many cannot even afford to go back home to their villages. And every penny that they did make, if they could go back, would go directly back to their families who are in desperate need of money.

And finding fair work, where they are paid a fair wage and treated with dignity and respect, is difficult for a young woman in Uganda.

Every single one of these women has the ability to go to University and the propensity to become the leaders of this nation. However, at the end of the day, the only way that is going to happen is if they come up with the money to continue their education.

So. This is where I tell you that the best solution I could come up with was to start a business to employ these girls for this nine month period before they go to University. So, that is what I am doing. This post is already ridiculously long, so the details will come later.

But I will tell you...

It turns out that starting a business is hard. Starting a business in a third-world country is...well, sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I have spent entire days, wandering in the rain through the Oweno market, only to emerge more lost than when I started.

I have made a lot of mistakes.

I have come to have a new appreciation for the wonders of Excel (I desperately need an accountant if any are willing to offer their services :) I throw-up in my mouth a little when I try to figure out taxes and tariffs and imports and exports, mostly just trying not to do anything that is going to land me in jail.

I have had violent urges to punch Ugandan business men who try to take advantage of the fact that I am a young, idealistic, mzungu (white) woman.

I have been really close to throwing up my hands and throwing in the towel.

But at the end of the day, my desire to empower these women so that one day they are not taken advantage of simply because they are women outweighs my frustration. My desire to see these women start their own businesses and write their own plays and teach the children of their nation is stronger (albeit slightly) than my desire to punch someone in the nose.

"So we beat on, boats against the current..." F. Scott Fitzgerald

{ the begining...}

{this is a post from when I was living in Uganda, when Sseko was just a glint in my eye...}

Over the past year, I have spent quite a bit of time (mostly at Kaldi's, with the occasional, and by occasional I mean daily, break for some Sparky's Ghiradelli and red wine ice cream) thinking about for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations.

For those of you who haven't been subjected to hearing me do my shpeal a hundred times, these entities and their relationships to one other and the consumer base is the topic of my thesis I am currently working on (and by working on, I mean thinking about...enter dark looming rain cloud that hangs ominously over me as I hop across continents)

Since there are no Kaldi's or Sparky's in Uganda, I continued to ponder solo style until I ran across some like-minded individuals who shared my enthusiasm...for examining these differences, looking at the relationship between these two sectors, and specifically thinking about the way Corporate Social Responsibility fits in to the scheme and can act as a bridge, a Middle Earth (that was for you, Andy) between these two worlds as one possible way of combining and harnessing the strengths of each...

Since the beginning of this journey, there has always been a tension for me. My heart is in the non-profit world. That makes sense to me. I am drawn to the missions, the visions, the passions of the non-profit world. But then there is that pesky brain of mine. And it clicks much more with a business operation model (That is not to say that both don't play an important and distinct role in society, but more so questioning the stark separation between these two worlds, both structurally and theoretically, and questioning if this separation is always necessary and the most advantageous for all constituents).

Not to mention the fact that American consumers are arguably the most influential and powerful group of people in the entire world. More powerful than any government, dictator, lobbyist or royalty.

A ticket to a Hannah Montana concert recently sold for $2,000 dollars.

Hannah Montana.

Laugh at the absurdity of this...

...and then remind yourself that there are 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.

and that two hours of sub-par musical bliss for a lip-gloss wearing 13 year old was more than 4x the yearly wages for 1.4 billion of our neighbors.

I really believe that in order to change the world (among other things) we have to change the way the world (and specifically America) does business, their consumer habits, and social consciousness. That is why I am so drawn to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. Shifting the paradigm. Taking CSR from being something that a company does to get an edge and a pat on the back, to a survival mechanism. Taking the concept of a socially responsible business from notions of corporate philanthropy, charity, and once-a-year volunteer days, to a concept that infiltrates and dictates every aspect of a business, from planning to manufacturing to advertising to sales.

There is immense power in market demand.

(think Giga Pets)

And if American consumers demand that the companies that keep their lives running, bodies clothed, and bellies full go beyond annual penny wars for a local charity, the beauty of capitalism and competition tells me that their competitors will have no choice but to follow suit.

Next on the agenda: How to create this demand.

Stay tuned...

but I am confident that if ...

a couple of guys with a whole lot of pseudo-precious stones on their hands can successfully build a global demand by convincing the world that an arbitrary mineral, I mean, a diamond is in fact the symbol of true love and commitment (and by golly! now the sign of an Independent Woman too!! Raise your right hand ladies!)...

...or that Hasboro can somehow create an outrageous demand for virtual key chain pets that leave little stinky surprises behind if they are not tended to...

i think we can figure it out