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My guest this week is Liz Bohannon, the CEO and founder of Sseko Designs, a fair trade, socially conscious fashion brand that is providing dignified jobs in developing nations around the world. Sseko Designs also gives university scholarships to the brightest, young female leaders in East Africa. This is actually Liz’s second time on the show! You can hear our first conversation all the way back at episode #28 in March of 2017! Over the years, Liz and I have become dear friends and it was so great having her back on the show! Join me to hear about Sseko Designs, Liz’s first book Beginners Pluck, and how Liz has lived a life of purpose, passion, and impact.
Liz has been running her ethical fashion brand, Sseko Designs for ten years. Three years ago, the organization experienced a fundamental shift as a company when they decided to shut down their wholesale channel.
They knew they were creating change for women all over the world with fair wages, education, and strong communities, but recognized that they were not fostering the same community on the retail side of their business yet.
When Sseko started 10 years ago, the term “social enterprise” didn’t exist. Sseko started to wonder if they could take the “business of good” and put it into the hands of regular, everyday consumers.
They launched Sseko Fellows, a social selling model to put products in the hands of women to sell Sseko products. It was a very small-scale beginning, but taught Sseko how to build a better model for women to earn a legitimate income. Liz knew that there were more women who also wanted to dream big to help women who also want to build their own businesses.
Sseko Fellows evolved into a social enterprise with teams that create full-time, fair-waged jobs for a year for artisans across the globe as well as university scholarships for the brightest female scholars in East Africa.
When people are provided dignified, fair-wage opportunity, they are far less likely to be trafficked into an illegal labor market. Often those who fall victim to these crimes are answering fake job ads, desperate to get out of poverty and unaware that it’s a trap until it’s too late.
When basic needs are met through safe jobs, the cycle of evil and abuse can be stopped.
While there are so many volunteer and non-profit causes that help make the world better, Liz and her team also recognized that women have more time and energy to contribute without burning out when they are equipped with a competitive salary and business resources.
If the way a woman contributes to her passion and purpose also generates an income, you free her to focus on social change work while making sure her childcare needs, bills, mortgage payments, car payments, groceries, etc. are not going to be a burden.
Something really magical happens when we know that there are others who want to show up and cheer for us. That is the atmosphere Sseko strives to create.
When people, particularly women, start new endeavors, the world often sits and waits for them to fail. Sseko women are encouraged to dream big with support from a like-minded sisterhood that helps set them up for success!
In the last few years, the Sseko community both in the United States Fellows Program and the Scholarship and Business programs in Africa have fostered a global family of women supporting women and championing each other through community, not competition.
If you don’t find community and make an impact, Sseko will fully refund your starter kit investment, which is only $150 for $400 worth of product. Working with Sseko not only brings financial freedom, enjoyable work, and finding a purpose, but the most common response from Sseko women about what they get out of the program is that they’ve found genuine female friendships to help in hard times and celebrate in the good.
You should probably all check out Liz’s cooking show with her two-year-old son, Theo on Instagram (@lizbohannon)
33:05 – Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose and Impact Now
Liz just wrote her first book called Beginner’s Pluck. I read it in a day and a half. It’s not your typical book on business, it’s much better. This is the book you’ll want to help you truly grow right where you are rather than just hearing feel good mantras.
Finding your passion isn’t a magical, one-time moment. Your life matters and you can make a difference, but it doesn’t just happen naturally for anyone.
Liz shares new ways of thinking about things that leaves people relieved and removes the pressure around achievement and shifts it to waking up to one’s own voice.
It’s a model of tapping into people’s lives and meaning rather than their fears and emotions for short-term bursts of engagement.
We can combine our faith with action and work. When you put in the work, God will bless that work.
It applies to goal setting and risk taking as well. Complacency and fear-driven desires for safety to keep from looking ridiculous or taking risks that are too big removes the opportunity for God to show up and do things we couldn’t dream up on our own.
If we’re always playing it safe and our primary concern is survival, we limit our potential. If you spend all your time dodging failure, you’ll never chase after the “what if” dreams.
Don’t forget that failure is a necessary and unavoidable process. That experience leads you to the moment when your dream finally “clicks.”
If you’re stuck in overwhelm, this book is for you. Your dream is within your grasp right where you are, whether in the good or the messy.
Liz has hopes that leaders will subscribe to this way of thinking to help their teams, employees, clients, etc. There is even a prison using Beginner’s Pluck to turn lives around!
You’ve got to start. Even if it’s an ugly start. You don’t get to evolve until you put yourself out there for the first time. An immature and over-inflated sense of ego happens we think we’ll automatically be successful right out of the gate.
Find out what stunt Liz pulled off after her talk at the Global Leader’s Summit. At 1:07:52 to learn walk Liz would choose as her “walk up song,” what she thinks we’ll be nostalgic for in forty years, her favorite lipstick color right now (because it’s so much fun) and of course, what it means to Liz to run a business with purpose.
15:51 – “A woman on a mission who is connected to her purpose, who is connected to her passion, can literally change the world.”
28:22 “We are going to be a community of women who are collectively ambitious. You do not have to worry about too much or dreaming too big. You get to be surrounded by people who say: ‘This is how I can support you.’ “
38:03 – “Once you have peace and an understanding of what it actually looks like to build a life of purpose, passion, and impact, that actually propels you forward.”
55:14 – “Me messing up doesn’t mean I’m broken; it doesn’t mean I’m not the right person for the job. It means that I’m trying to do something that is difficult.”
“You only have the opportunity to fail when you choose to do something that is a little bit out of your reach.”
“We started to wonder if Sseko could be a company that pioneers this idea of democratizing social entrepreneurship and business for good.”
Liz Forkin Bohannon is the founder of Sseko Designs and the author the book Beginner’s Pluck: Build your life of purpose, passion and impact now.
Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that works to educate and empower women. By providing employment and educational opportunities, Sseko enables women to continue their education and become leaders in their country.
Liz graduated from the University of Missouri with a Master’s degree in Journalism. In 2008, she moved to Uganda where she met an incredible group of talented young women who were struggling to finance their higher education.
After traveling the country by motorcycle to find raw materials and learn how to produce footwear by hand, Liz hired three young women and started Sseko Designs. Since then, Sseko Designs has grown from three women making sandals together under a mango tree, to an international fashion brand that provides employment, educational opportunities and entrepreneurial training to hundreds of women in East Africa and across the globe.
Using her unlikely story of a journalist-gone-shoe-maker, Liz shares her passion for social enterprise, conscious consumerism, social justice, creative leadership and gender-equality.
Liz and the Sseko story has been featured in dozens of publications including: Vogue Magazine, Redbook Magazine, O Magazine, Inc, Fortune and others. Sseko has appeared on national broadcasts including ABC’s Shark Tank and Good Morning America.
Among other notable honors, Liz was recently named a top three Transformation Leader by John Maxwell and Bloomberg Businessweek named Sseko as a top social enterprise. Forbes named Liz one of the top 20 public speakers in the U.S. Liz’s powerful, disarmingly authentic and witty voice captivates and inspires her audience.
She now splits her time between Uganda and Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband Ben run Sseko Designs and raise their two young sons.
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