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

Molly’s Defense of Beauty: The Transcendence of the Animal Nature

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
– Che Guevara

I’ll preface this by saying that my political beliefs have been nearly everywhere on the spectrum. Currently, according to my voter registration, I am non-partisan, but judging by my hair, piercings, and undying love for Conor Oberst, you can guess which way I swing.

My dad, on the other hand, is an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh, no matter how risqué or allegedly racist his comments get. I have a theory that my dad’s just old and crazy, but I’m not sure that dementia can begin at age 47.

Every time I come home, it’s the same scenario: we discuss my classes, we talk about family drama, and we ease ourselves into a gentle political discussion. Two minutes later, Dad and I both realize that we hold completely opposite points of view. He brings up the standard conservative arguments – all of which I know, because unfortunately I’ve read every single Ann Coulter book published before 2010. I offer a few social justice-focused comebacks, but I can feel the tears of frustration welling up.

We’re misunderstanding each other.

In all reality, I don’t think my dad and I are that different. We both care for others, we both want America and the world to flourish, and we’re both pretty idealistic about our beliefs. But as is the case in most political arguments, we have different means to reach the same end. He believes a free market will most effectively guarantee human success, while I believe that, above anything else, love for others will save us.

Tim Bastian, a Creighton professor who spoke in last Sunday’s Cortina-sponsored Debate, is a lot like my dad. He’s an incredibly smart guy, he’s had decades of experience as a middle-class white male, and he’s extremely practical. And though I can agree with many things he said that night, one statement in particular struck me. He said that one of the most beautiful things about modern day humanity is our ability to trade freely and safely with each other.

Indeed, that is an astonishing and inspiring fact: humans have progressed so much that we can maintain a free market, exercising our ability to produce and purchase goods. What a true display of human creativity and potential.

However, Mr. Bastian, there are more beautiful things about humanity than our knack for creating free market systems.

I believe the most beautiful thing humans can do is transcend their animal nature enough to deeply care for one another, to disregard the savage “circle of life” and trust ourselves to create love instead of succumbing to violence and indifference.

There is absolutely no place for violence in the human race. The fact that we are conscious enough to recognize the humanity in others, the fact that we can create such deep bonds with one another, the fact that we have used our abilities to constantly improve the human condition for as long as our species has existed – for me, all of these facts point to the overwhelming goodness of people. Whether we are innately good or evil does not matter to me. What matters to me is that we can recognize when others suffer and that we have the full capability to do something about it.

Force yourself to care, no matter if you idolize Rush Limbaugh or Che Guevara, no matter if you voted for Obama, Romney, or Gary Johnson. Force yourself to stop polluting the earth with apathy, with things you don’t need, with trash and carbon dioxide and negativity. Force yourself to do more than simply exist.

Shout your indignation at the sky and run steadfastly to help your brothers and sisters who are suffering from injustice.

Because serving others in any way is the absolute most beautiful act of humankind.

Defend that beauty.

-Molly