Monday Meditation: On Sseko Designs

During our Community Time yesterday, Kara began a discussion on Social Entrepreneurship, that is, ways that businesses can be resources for community development–and still be good businesses!

One of my friends, Liz, started the sandal company Sseko Designs with her husband, Ben. See below for an excerpt from the Sseko website to help us understand how their business plan emerged and how it attempts to use business to address deep needs in a society.

Sseko Designs uses fashion to provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women pursuing their dreams and overcoming poverty. 

Issue #1: Female students, due to a lack of economic opportunity, are not able to continue on to university and pursue leadership positions in society.

Solution #1: Sseko Designs provides employment during the 9 month gap between high school and university where high potential young women are able to earn and save enough money to pay for college tuition. 50% of their salary  each month goes into a savings account that is not accessible until tuition is due. This ensures that their income goes towards education. This also protects the women in our program from the social pressure they often feel from their families to give away the money the are earning which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty. At the end of each term, Sseko Designs grants university scholarships that match up to 100% of the savings each woman has made during her 9 month session with Sseko.

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Issue #2: In a patriarchal and male dominated society, women are not afforded the same employment and economic opportunities as their male counterparts. We know that for every dollar a women in a developing economy earns, she will reinvest 90% of it into her family. We also know that although 66% of the world’s labor is done by women, we own less than 1% of the world’s assets. As long as women are not afforded educational and professional equality, extreme poverty will continue to exist. 

Solution #2: In addition to providing employment to women working their way towards university, Sseko partners with women from all walks for life. Sseko employs university graduates who comprise the upper level management team. These are women that use their education, experience and voice to help shape our company. Sseko also works to provide employment for women who have aged out of the education system and have no other form of income generation. We also partner with a local non-profit in Uganda that works with young women who have recently come out of the commercial sex industry. Providing stable, dignifying and fair wage employment is a key component to keeping women from entering back into prostitution. We believe that every woman has the capacity to end the cycle of poverty and that it can be done in a way that is fair, dignifying, honoring and life-giving.

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Issue #3: Although charities and non-profits play a vital and necessary role in all societies, sometimes charity and aid can play a negative role by enabling dependencies and damaging the local economies.  Like us, our African friends need and desire opportunity, dignity, job creation and empowerment. 

Solution #3: Instead of treating the symptoms, we aim to address the deeper, underlying issues of extreme poverty. Although Sseko Designs has been built for the purpose of impacting a specific social sector, we have chosen very intentionally to use a sustainable, self-sufficient business model to do this. Our hope is to help create industry and fair-trade with the belief that a large component of economic development lies in the business sector. We believe in the power of responsible consumerism. Instead of competing for limited donor dollars, we hope consumers think about the story behind their “stuff.” If we considered the impact that each product we consume has on the lives of those who produced that product and chose to see consumerism as a force and opportunity for positive social change, we believe the world would be filled with beautiful products with even more beautiful stories.

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How often do businesses seem to take this approach to their work? What kind of ethical potential do businesses have? Do you see any injustices that might be solved by business or the creation of new markets? What injustices can be created by business? How can we re-train our minds to creatively think about how to use all tools in our cultural tool box, including business, to act on behalf of justice?

-Annie

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