NOT JUST FOR PROFIT
Sseko Designs CEO and Founder Liz Forkin Bohannon was inspired to start her international footwear company after moving to Uganda and meeting talented young women who were struggling to finance their education. She shares with us her expertise about what she calls “compassionate consumerism”.
Is your business for-profit or not-for-profit? For-profit! Or as we like to say: not-just-for-profit.
Why did you choose to set up your business one way or the other? We believe in financially sustainable, market-based solutions to the world’s greatest problems. We also believe in creating real value for all our stakeholders, both in the US and East Africa. We have created our business model around using fashion and design to educate and empower women and are extremely passionate about using a traditional for-profit business model to build provide incomes, job creation, education and professional opportunities. Business and consumerism are arguably the most powerful forces in our world today. Every dollar you spend is a vote for the way our world will do business and see our “stuff.” We are excited to be a part of a growing movement the uses “patient capital” to combine philanthropy and traditional business models to change the world.
Did you set out to create a business or was your initial intention just to find a way to help others? Definitely the latter! Sseko was first a charity, then a chicken farm and then a sandal company! Initially I was only really passionate about being a part of helping to educate and empower these young women. It took a few iterations to come up with the model we are now using to do that.
How did you fund your venture in the beginning? My life savings! I funded Sseko with the money I made as a nanny during high school and college summers!
What obstacles do you think social enterprises face that traditional small businesses might not?There is just a lot more to consider when making decisions. Not just ‘Will this work?’ from a market perspective, but also ‘Does this make sense from a mission/development standpoint?’ Those are two huge questions that we’re always asking and weighing.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? From the very first conversation I had with the Ugandan school headmistress who told me how much these young women were struggling to continue onto university. I knew in that moment, in some capacity, this story had become my own.
Did your former career/job prepare you for running your own business? Well, I didn’t really have one, to be honest! I moved to Uganda about 3 months after I graduated college, so I went from intern to CEO!
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? Absolutely! I wanted to start a sponsorship program. But then I was challenged to create a market solution, so I started a chicken farm…and that failed. Then onto sandals and there have been a million iterations since then. Your business plan is absolutely never “finished.”
When you think of the best people to work with, what traits do they share? Passion, flexibility and grit.
Give a budding entrepreneur your best hiring and firing business practices. I recently started a practice where in place of first-round interviews, I have applicants make a video answering 10 questions. Instead of spending all of the administrative time it takes to schedule and hold interviews, I’m able to watch them at my convenience. It saves so much time and a lot of personality comes through those videos, so you can usually get a sense for if they would be a good cultural fit for your team. I also use smartrecruiters.com to manage resumes and applications and I will never go back!