We have all felt injustice. We have all experienced it in our lives. At times, some of us just couldn’t help but to voice out against it, some of us will do something about it until we grow tired and accept the ”reality”.
And there are some like Liz Bohannon who will fight it, well rather creatively.
Social justice always has been the lens through which Liz sees the world. But that wasn’t the only lens.
Liz, now 29, came to know Jesus when she was a troubled teen, this transformation gave her a reason why justice matters. She says, Jesus’ entire life showed her tangibily “what it looks like to pursue justice and equality, and to go against culture in a way that empowers lives of the forgotten, the suppressed and the abandoned.”
In high school, Liz began helping the peers in her hometown that were suffering in poverty and racial discrimination.
Later, studying journalism at the University, her curious nature led her to discover her passion in the issues facing women in poverty and war.
Like most of us, Liz graduated college and took a regular 9-5 job. During this years, the calling she received to help marginalize women never gave up on nudging her. She decide to do something about it.
Soon she realized she didn’t know a single woman who had grown up in poverty or conflict. Her whole life revealed a huge lack of empathy for the people she want to help. There is a large gap between how she lived and what she claim she cared about – This woke her up.
So what did she do? You guessed it. Liz quit her job and took off to Uganda with a one-way ticket.
Disappointing Reality of Traditional Aids
When Liz arrived in Uganda, she got “a pretty intense crash-course on what doesn’t work.” She was able to see aid organizations operating in numbers like the ATM. Liz felt just like another bolts that is in an comfortable system that the majority people around her accepted.
“What’s more, I discovered the unhealthy humiliating relationship between those who help and those who receive help.” she says. Driven by her faith, she felt deep in her heart they are not making a real lasting difference.
The longer she hung around school, she discovered a harsh reality that prevails across the continent: Female students weren’t going on to college.
In Uganda, there’s a nine-month gap between high school and college to give students time to make money for tuition, she says. But unemployment was high, and most jobs there were went to men.
Down to Business
Liz needed to create something that contributed to the local Ugandan economy. She needed something that continued the support system women received at her leadership school – Cornerstone, which they lost when they returned home to look for work.
She needed to start a business.
Her first thought was a chicken farm, which “failed really quickly.” Then she was reminded of the “strappy, funky sandals” she had made in college out of ribbon and flip-flop soles.
“That started the hilarious journey of figuring out how does one make sandals, and how does one make sandals in the middle of Uganda?” she says.
She trained classmates from the leadership school to make the ribbon sandals, promising them that in months, they’d have enough money from sales to go to college. With this bold promise Liz returned to US with all the sandals, selling them out of the trunk of her car and telling the stories behind her shoes to everyone.
By the end of the summer, she earned enough to send the three women to college. Enough, even, to convince herself and her husband to sell everything, launch a company to do the same thing again and again.
In 2009, Liz officially started Sseko Designs, a Luganda word for “laughter.”
Justice Driven By Love. Not Law.
Today, Sseko is the largest Ugandan exporter of footwear.
And Liz is one of a growing number of social entrepreneurs addressing justice issues through business. Sharing her source of love, there is a exponential number of people in Uganda who discover opportunity, hope and faith.
Liz continues to travel to Uganda at least once a year to meet each class of girls who work for Sseko.
In the latest class of 2015, Sseko will have sent 60 women to college. The company puts half of each woman’s pay into a savings account they can access when they get to college. Then Sseko matches what’s in that account, guaranteeing students have enough money to pay tuition.
It’s easy to point to numbers, Liz says, but what’s most exciting to her is the way Sseko became “this incredible pathway for connecting women in the west with women in Uganda.”
It’s seeing the transformation in the lives of women in Uganda. And it’s the transformation of Liz’s life with the relationship of women in Uganda, how that’s challenged her to be walk out her love, and to push the boundaries of what she thought was possible.
“We’ve seen a massive mind and heart shift. People are starting to look at business in a new way. It is so exciting and inspiring to us, and it’s one of the main reasons why we do what we do.” – Say Liz.
Now, what makes her heart burn?
Like Liz’s life, anything you dream of is possible once your heart become ignited.