Sandals to College
Thinking Out Loud with Liz Bohannon
So I met these young women and was just totally like, Oh my gosh, it’s just like their enthusiasm and ambition was quite infectious. And I was just like, all right, this is it.
If we have any hope like as a globe as a society, I wanna see these young women in positions of leadership in their community with this deep belief that they will create change in their communities in Uganda, in the region, ultimately in our world.
And so I was like, whatever it takes I just wanna be a small part of this story of kind of helping launch this specific group of young women into the next season of their life. So just from being out at the school and forming relationships both with the students and the teachers and administration. I kind of got folded into this conversation about a challenge that they were facing as an organization. And that challenge was pretty acute in the sense that there’s a nine month gap in between high school and university. And a lot of the women were graduating from this program, they were testing into college really academically gifted, but they were going back home to their villages for that nine month gap and they couldn’t find jobs which meant that they couldn’t pay for university. They might be the only women in their entire communities who have graduated from high school school let alone have aspirations to continue onto university. And there was a ton of social pressure that they face to get married and to start having kids. For a lot of young women in Uganda there’s this idea that their worth as a person as a citizen is really tied up in getting married and producing children. That tradition can lead to a lot of pressure and exploitation on behalf of young women.
And so as a good American, you know, jumping to conclusions, I thought, okay we’ll start a charity, we’ll start a sponsorship program. We’ll get women in the U.S. to support or sponsor, you know, women and Uganda to go to university. And I went down that path for a while and explored it more .
I realized that I didn’t want to start a charity. I wanted to create a marketplace solution for this specific challenge.
I wanted something that was scalable. I wanted something that would contribute to the local economy. And so I started a chicken farm and that failed pretty miserably. And then a friend from back home was like, “what about those strappy funky sandals you made when we were in college?”
And so I was like, you know, I don’t have any better ideas. You know, I tried a chicken farm that failed. Sure, like why not sandals? So that started this process of my life where I traveled Uganda mainly by looking for raw materials and prototyping and developing a product and got it to a place where it was good enough. It wasn’t perfect by any means.
I went out to the school and I met with the teachers and the principals and was like okay, who are three women that you think if they had the opportunity to continue on to university would become leaders in their community but based off of their backgrounds would probably have a hard time doing that. And they came back they chose three women, Mary, Mercy and Rebecca. I taught them how to make these strappy sandals.
And I promised them that if they made these sandals for that gap in between high school and university that they would go to college the next fall.
And they were like, okay, and I was like, okay. We ended up by the end of that year selling enough sandals to send Mary, Mercy and Rebecca to university. And my husband and I, we kind of sit back and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, like it worked. “We gotta do it again next year. Like we could hire twice as many women.”
And really together started dreaming about what it would look like for Sseko not just to be kind of this like project but to really be a global company, to build a best in class consumer goods company that would create opportunity and community for hopefully eventually thousands, tens of thousands of women across the globe.
Watch Brighter featuring Liz Bohannon, a finalist for the 2022 SIMA Impact Video Awards.
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