The act of caring should be a traded commodity. It’s the energy that drives any successful company or relationship.
If you care enough, you’ll do your best. If your care enough, you’ll realize from time to time that your best isn’t cutting it, so you’ll study more. You’ll learn from others that are operating at the level you believe you need to operate.
If you care enough, you won’t settle for anything less than excellence. You’ll make sure every detail is covered. You’ll ensure that relationships are handled with care because you know that is paramount to your success.
And of course the opposite is true as well. The lack of care always results in a deficit of all of the wonderful dynamics I’ve just listed above.
Someone should start a school that teaches people to care. Caring should represent the most extensive part of an interview process. Caring should be the thing we care about most.
Caring deeply typically results in a commitment to excellence. The more you care, the better your art.
If you care enough, you’ll figure everything else out and ensure that it happens. And if you don’t, you won’t.
People tend to run from competition, often to the extent of attempting to squelch the success of their peers. They fear their methods or designs will be copied or vanquished. This contributes to a lot of undue stress and counter productivity.
Fashion is a $298 Billion per year industry in the US. Consumerism is already turning towards more ethical and earth friendly production methods, as well as hand crafted goods. There’s plenty of pie out there for all of us.
Ethical Fashion is in its infancy, at best. Even those producing similar products are far from saturating the market. There is much to be done to prove ethical production methods can yield equal or greater results than that of more predominant exploitative business practices. The public will need more than a few successful examples before becoming believers. We need our peers to succeed as well.
Furthermore, competition breeds quality. If I design a necklace and my competitor designs a better one, what do you think I will do next? The absence of competition fosters mediocrity.
I can choose to view competitors as a threat, or a vital collaborator; my choice. We welcome the opportunity to work together to educate the public, build a more robust market and challenge each other to create better goods.
Besides, we don’t have the budget for the amount of publicity we need to impact the image of Africa. Knowing there are hundreds of other organizations out there proving the viability of our business model and contributing to the growth of our market brings me a lot of comfort.
*As a testament to our practice of collaboration, we will partner with 5-10 of our biggest competitors to produce an ethical fashion show and pop-up shop in February. Details coming soon at keza.com.
If I’m a photographer working in Africa, I’m going look for the most mind blowing and disturbing images I can capture. That’s my purpose. I gather pictures of starvation, disease, filthy hospitals, rebels with guns, dictators with gold plated vehicles and children with distended bellies and flies on their faces.
I will use these photos to expose the plight of Africa and advocate my cause. More tragedy results in more donor funds. Let’s face it; the race for donor funds is quite competitive in the midst of a recession in the US. If I want my pictures to do any good, they better capture the worst and most compelling images I can find.
We’re living in a time where the media is constantly pushing the envelope with new levels of violence and tragedy. It’s become a competition of sorts. Whoever is more shocking wins, and it takes a lot to shock society these days. We see a similar dynamic affecting the humanitarian world.
But what if the most beautiful images won? What if the media depicted Africa the way they do Australia or the United States; as a destination for beauty, adventure and rich culture? How would that change the world’s view of Africa? How might this effect the number of tourists and investors coming to Africa?
This is obviously a bit idealistic, but why not? At some point, the beauty of Africa has to be more attractive and compelling than its demise. It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we represent the Mother Land.
The Fair Trade concept was pioneered by missions groups and non-profits back in the early ‘40s. The idea is that if a product is produced with Fair Trade practices, one can assume it was created “fairly”. This concept has become a household term due to the proliferation of corporate transparency caused by the internet boom in the early ‘90s.
However, there has been some speculation as to whether Fair Trade is actually bolstering sustainable growth or just allowing for a new marketing ploy for Fair Trade certified businesses. In many cases, the new wages are just a fraction higher than what it was before, and typically still far below the market value of the product.
In many cases, Fair Trade seems to be (at best) merely making business “better than it was”. While I do believe Fair Trade is positive and necessary, I also believe it’s time to move beyond it.
This calls for pricing that is determined by the market value of a product rather than just what you can buy it for. If a boutique sells a product for $200, that would indicate that it was purchased for about $100 from a wholesaler that bought it for $50 from the artist. But that’s far from typical. A product like this is more likely to be purchased for closer to $5-$10 in a place like Rwanda or Kenya.
But we have the opportunity to change that dynamic. If we pay according to the market value of the product, we still experience great margins, the artist receives a “fair” price for their product, and the retail margin isn’t affected. And this raises the bar for what buyers are expected to pay in developing countries. This seems like a logical scenario doesn’t it? Anything less just seems…unfair.
How did general business practices get so bad that we had to come up with a new method called “social entrepreneurship”. Why isn’t all business done in such a way that it builds communities, enhances the lives of the people running the businesses, and bolsters the betterment of humanity?
Shouldn’t your success as an entrepreneur be gauged by whether or not you are benefiting the lives of the people that work with/for you, as well as the amount of money you are able to put in the bank? How did the rest of humanity miss out on the transaction? If you have a business that makes a lot of money off of the oppression and exploitation of others, you have failed. Sure, you found a way to make money, but that’s only part of the deal.
The real successes are when someone is able to create a profitable business that doesn’t destroy the lives of others, but in fact enhances them.
But, it is what it is. So now we have “social entrepreneurship”. I suppose that will work, but now we need to convert everyone else over to that system and make it the new standard. Easier said than done, but we, as consumers, certainly have the power to influence the industry. After all, we’re the ones buying the product. And it doesn’t matter what they make, or how they make it. It matters if we buy it. Therefore, we are in charge.
I wanted to build businesses in Africa because I knew it could help generate a sustainable income. It could free them from dependency on donors and connect them to the same market that allows the western world to thrive economically. I picked the fashion industry above all others because it exemplifies sustainability in its resilience to the ebb and flow of our economy.
KEZA provides women with a sustainable income, but equally as important, it allows them to experience DIGNITY. That’s something a donation or handout can’t buy. It’s something experienced only through a process of achievement. It cannot be given to you.
The women own and operate their business. They create products that others desire because they are exclusive, quality and unique. People want what they create. Something beautiful and powerful happens when we create something others desire. It gives us purpose, importance and worth.
KEZA is not about pity; it’s about dignity. I believe that may be the most powerful contribution we could bestow upon Africa.
Four years ago we set out to build businesses in Africa for poverty stricken women. We had three major goals.
- Create locally (African) owned businesses that provide lucrative careers, resulting in income and dignity.
- Set a higher standard and example of a quality products and a preferred brand.
- To do it all so well that it attracted more outside investors to do business in Africa as well.
Now we’ve created a solid business in Rwanda, fully owned and operated by Rwandans. But in the US we are still a non-profit. As a non-profit, we are unlike a business in that we are not subject to profit and loss. Therefore, anytime we (or the Rwandan business) make a mistake, we just buffer it with donor funding. Therefore, we are not a business, and we have failed to achieve goal #3.
What is the #1 focus of a business owner? Profit. We can’t simply remove the most fundamental facet of a business and still claim we are a business. If we don’t make a profit, we have failed.
I’ve filed the paperwork and KEZA will officially be a for-profit organization starting January 2010. It’s our responsibility to push the envelope and now we’ve got to kick the training wheels off and do this for real.
Diamonds don’t kill people in Sierra Leone. The structure of the diamond business does. Should we stop buying diamonds? Not at all. Don’t take away their most valuable resource. Reform the way it’s produced and sold. What if we reformed the way the diamond business is carried out? What if the money from diamond sales actually went back to the harvesters?
“Sustainable business” is one of the most popular terms used in the developing world, especially Africa. What could possibly be more sustainable that our nation’s vanity? Call it what it is. We aren’t some pious society that’s going to eat granola and save the manatees all day. We care about our appearance. And we always will.
So why not take an extremely sustainable business sector and connect it to a group of people in the developing world that are trying desperately to create viable products?
Capitalism and vanity don’t have to destroy humanity. We just have to reform the way the businesses that fuel them are carried out.
KEZA gives purpose to our vanity.
I keep having this issue with the term “social entrepreneurialism”. I agree with the concept, and consider myself to be one of them. But the word “social” doesn’t seem to work for me. And why do we have to have a term for this anyway?
Shouldn’t your success as an entrepreneur be gauged on whether or not you are benefiting the lives of the people that work with/for you, as well as the amount of money you are able to make? Why has that part been left out? In my opinion, if you have a business that makes a lot of money off of the oppression and exploitation of others, you don’t really have a successful business. You’ve cheated.
So if we’re going to have to make a distinction from a regular entrepreneur, we should be calling it “ethical entrepreneurialism”. But what I’m really trying to achieve here is solidifying a new term for doing business in a way that helps build communities and enhance the lives of people, AND make a profit at the same time.
What about “impact entrepreneurialism”? Or “ubuntu business”. Maybe that’s what we should say. “We’re building ubuntu businesses; businesses that improve people’s lives.”