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(Interested in hearing Liz speak? Find out more details here.)
My name is Liz. I went to Uganda on somewhat of a whim when I graduated from college. I studied journalism and wanted to learn more about the issues facing women and girls living in poverty and in conflict and post conflict zones. I went to learn. To understand. To be changed. To break. And to grow. I didn’t set out because I had something to give. I set out because I believed there was so much more I had left to learn. So I went. And while I was there… I changed. I broke. And I began to learn.
During my time traveling across Uganda, I came across an incredible community. And in that community there was a remarkable group of young women. They were mostly my age. They became friends. The commitment of these young women blew me away. They were not only committed to learning their subjects, but also so committed to learning how to love well. To love each other. To reconcile their lives. To lead their communities and countries.
When I came to learn that many of these bright, passionate young women were graduating from secondary school and struggling to find work during their gap year to finance their university education, Sseko was born.
My first attempt was a chicken farm.
And when that failed (shocker!), I designed a sandal that I thought was really beautiful. I spent weeks wandering through the local markets looking for the things I needed to make these strappy leather sandals. With zero background (or interest at all in business or product design) I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I laughed at myself, out loud, a lot. I also had a dramatic cry in the rain in the middle of a busy market because for three entire days I had been looking, without success, for a tool to punch holes in leather. (Not rocket science, people.) Luckily, it was pouring and I wasn’t wearing mascara, so I don’t think anyone could tell.
I had entered into a community, like most communities, with obvious brokenness and despair. But there was also so much hope, success and life. I believed that these women deserved the same opportunity to continue their education that I had been afforded. But I also believed that our world needed these women to have a voice and a platform to create change. I wanted to be a part of creating a world with women like them at the helm. But first, college.
Some of these young women are from villages that have never seen one of their own finish high school. And here they were graduating from secondary school, despite all odds. They had received an incredible education and were academically qualified to continue.
All they needed was an opportunity.
An opportunity to work. An opportunity to succeed and earn and save. To work in a place that was dignified and honoring. To work in an environment and with people who saw beyond the seemingly impossible barriers of the now and had a vision for what they would become.
So that is what we do.
Sseko is not a charity. What we’re trying to do is create partnership, possibility and opportunity where it didn’t exist before.
And we do this by making beautiful things together. We work (hard) and we laugh and we love and we learn. And every nine months, we let go and we send these incredible women off to pursue dreams of their own.
Our vision is to create a company where every facet of our business, from production through the final sale of our stunning products, will create opportunity and community for women pursuing their dreams--both across the world and right here at home.
So we created the Sseko Fellows program to do just that. The Sseko Fellows program is a vibrant community of bright, brave and bold social entrepreneurs who are using their gifts and passions to create impact across the world and in their own backyards.
Every Sseko Fellow here in the United States is matched with a Sole Sister in Uganda. Every single dollar she sells in Sseko product helps contribute to sending her Sole Sister to University. Meanwhile, she earns an income to fund her own dreams. We call that a Win Win.
And it’s working! To date, in partnership with the Sseko Fellows, we’ve enabled 87 women in Uganda to attend University through an entirely self-sustaining financial model.
I am still learning. I am making mistakes and making a mess. Sseko isn’t even close to perfect, but it is a beautiful adventure.
I love to dream alongside these women about their futures. About the change they will bring and the love they will give.
But I love dreaming about the here, as well. About building a community of people right here in America who see themselves and their global sisters in a new way. I love dreaming about how we can inspire and challenge women all over the world to become brave, bold and courageous. I dream about a community of consumers who see shoes as something more than a lifeless product on a shelf but who see the lives and the dreams of the hands who made them.
Thanks for being a part of this messy, beautiful little story. Thanks for looking beyond the mess of the now and seeing a brighter future for them and us, for their country and for ours.
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