Singlebrook talks with Liz Forkin Bohannon, Founder of Sseko Designs, about how her inspiring social venture brings economic and educational opportunities to women in Uganda while producing a line of colorful, strappy sandals (available online!).
Singlebrook: Please give a brief overview of what your organization does.
LFB: Sseko Designs is a footwear and accessories company based in Uganda. Sseko was created to educate, empower and provide employment opportunities to high potential young women in East Africa. Sseko began as a way to generate income for talented young women to continue on to university. Sseko has graduated three classes of women. Every woman who has graduated from Sseko is currently pursuing her college degree. In addition to our university-bound team, Sseko also employs a full-time team of women from all walks of life. By creating an environment of dignity, honor, creativity and dedication, Sseko Designs provides the opportunity for women in East Africa to end the cycle of poverty and create a more equitable society.
Singlebrook: How did you come up with the idea for your organization?
LFB: While living in Uganda (I moved there to pursue journalism), I met a group of incredibly talented and ambitious young women who needed economic opportunity in order to continue on to university and pursue their dreams. I knew I was in a certain place in a certain time, and that the story of these women would become a part of my story. I couldn’t have cared how that took shape. Almost everything about Sseko was born from necessity. We needed to generate income. We had to do something that 18 year old girls could be a part of for a season and then move on to pursue their goals. We had to create something out of the limited materials available in the East African region. After several other ideas (including a chicken farm!) I was reminded of a pair of funky, strappy sandals I had made a few years earlier. I spent a few weeks scouring the country for the materials we needed and trying to learn everything I could about making footwear. I hired three young women, and several weeks later, under a mango tree, a sandal company in East Africa was born!
Singlebrook: How did you handle funding in the early stages?
LFB: We were entirely internally funded. In fact, our initial “capital” was the money I made nannying in college! We started selling as soon as possible so we could funnel our revenues back into Uganda.
Singlebrook: How are you using social media to share your story?
LFB: We use social media to filter out all our latest news, build a connection with our fan base. We really try to create conversation with our fans instead of simply pushing product. It is also a really important tool for customer service. As for bloggers, I will say that Sseko might not exist if it were not for bloggers. Especially early on, bloggers big and small were what helped launch us into the universe.
Singlebrook: What have been a few of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in launching and growing this venture? How did you handle them?
LFB: Because there are not many business of our kind (specifically, production intended for export), the infrastructure for production and logistics is still very limited. Our hope is to not only to make Sseko successful but in the process, to contribute to the overall climate of doing business in East Africa. We are tackling these challenges through ongoing training, identifying great partners on the ground, working with existing technical training facilities, and introducing new technologies from around the world to East Africa.
Singlebrook: What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
LFB: To do for one person what you wish you could do for many. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged while working for social justice. But great things don’t happen in a day. It is about being faithful, and putting one foot in front of the other and walking slowly towards to goal. One person at a time! Engage with the community you are serving in and listen very seriously to their opinions and wisdom.
Singlebrook’s T4C campaign spotlights entrepreneurs and organizations that are using technology in unique ways to scale their ideas and create a massive impact. We are also creating our own high impact T4C projects. Check them out at: singlebrook.com/t4c. Share your stories of T4C or other inspirational resources and tips on Twitter (@Singlebrook) using #SBT4C and on the T4C Facebook group, or contact us to be spotlighted in an upcoming feature interview or blog article!