DREAM CATCHER: LIZ FORKIN BOHANNON
Armed with a newly-minted Master’s Degree in Journalism, Liz Forkin Bohannon moved to Uganda in 2008 to assist in the communications efforts for a youth development organization based in Kampala. While there, Liz met an incredible group of talented young women who were struggling to finance their education and wanted to find a way to help them, and Sseko Designs was born. She designed a sandal, traveled the country by motorcycle to find raw materials, and hired three young women to produce the footwear by hand. Since that time, Sseko has grown from those three women making sandals together under a mango tree into an international footwear company that provides employment, educational opportunities and entrepreneurial training to women in East Africa. The company currently employs 50 women from all walks of Uganda and has so far enabled 47 women to continue on to university. Liz now splits her time between Uganda and Portland, Oregon, where runs Sseko alongside her husband, Ben. She is passionate about social justice and compassionate consumerism and believes that empowering women is a fundamental piece of working toward a more just and peaceful world.
What are three words that best describe your company? Adventure, Versatile, Artisanal.
Five years from now I see myself and my company… Providing opportunity to women all over the world (including here at home!)
I gave up ________ to pursue my dream. All sense of stability and normalcy! I lived out of my car for six months and didn’t take a paycheck for two years. But I would absolutely do it all over again.
The key to balancing it all is… Always put your people before your projects.
I funded my dream by… I started Sseko with my life savings. It wasn’t much, but I was a compulsive saver all through high school and college and had a little nest egg that I’d earned by working as a nanny. I used it to buy a plane ticket to Uganda, purchase the necessary equipment, and finance the first stage of Sseko.
What piece of invaluable advice did you receive that you would like to pass on to women pursuing their dream? Fake it ’til you make it!
My biggest challenge is… Staying focused. There is always a tension between pursuing new growth opportunities and staying focused on what is right in front of you.
My best advice, in one sentence, for launching a venture is…Take the first step sooner rather than later. You’ll learn as you go. If you wait until you’ve got every single duck in a row, you’ll never take the plunge.
Best piece of hiring and/or firing advice is…I typically have applicants submit a short video interview before the in-person interview. It’s much more efficient, and it is amazing how much you can find out about a person when you’re able to go beyond the resume.
The most important thing I have learned so far is: A vision is a gift and you have a responsibility to pursue it.
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
What are three words that best describe you? Energetic, Committed, Mischievous.
When you go on vacation you always… Try to take the road less traveled.
My favorite singer/album is… The band Joseph!
My favorite food is… Ethiopian. I can’t get enough shiro!
I am most proud of… My marriage.
On my playlist right now… Every song by Joseph!
My favorite candy is… Caramel Apple Pops.
My favorite scent is… Coconut anything.
One thing I hope to pass along to my children is… Bravery and a heart for the underdog.
A woman who inspires me is… One of my best friends, Anne. She has shown such courage, grace and honesty through a difficult pregnancy with a Trisomy 13 baby and the recent birth and loss of her beautiful daughter. You can read about her journey at Babyublog.com.