Does One For One Work?


A common giving model for social enterprises is the Buy One Give One or One for One system in which for every good sold a duplicate is donated to a person in need. Most people are familiar with Tom's Shoes but not as many may know that Warby Parker sells and distributes eyeglasses, Sir Richard’s sells and donates condoms, Roma Boots sells and gives away boots, Nouri Bar donates a meal for a hungry child for every nutritional bar it sells, KNO Clothing gives away clothes and donates to homeless shelters, Soapbox Soaps donates a month of water, a bar of soap, or a year of vitamins for each soap product it sells. You get the idea. Not only is this a charitable idea, it’s a “sexy” idea that is appealing and quickly gains traction amongst consumers.

But does this model really work? Like everything, it’s complicated, but I would like to take a deeper dive into this concept. Having done extensive research on this model I was discouraged to find that it often does little in the way of helping. Here’s why:

Firstly, it can have a negative impact on local economies. Andreas Widmer, the director of entrepreneurship programs at Catholic University explains, “The unintended consequence is that, of course, there is a local cobbler who actually makes shoes and sells them… Why would you go buy something if you could get it for free? That wreaks havoc on a lot of businesses, especially small- and medium-sized ones.” With a market flooded with free products, like shoes, people earning an income in that industry, legitimately supporting the local economy, can find their jobs threatened.

Second, the One for One model rarely solves a problem entirely or efficiently. Take Toms Shoes, for example, who donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. They argue that shoes prevent illnesses contracted from being barefoot in unsanitary latrines. This is true, to an extent, but it’s not solving that issue in its entirety. A significantly larger and more sustainable impact would have been to build proper latrines for these children and their families. It would prevent the same illnesses as does distributing shoes, would last longer, would assist more people, and would not have to be replaced as often. It’s universally known that kids are hard on shoes, both because they outgrow them and because they’re always playing. A free pair of Toms Shoes lasts a child 3-6 months of typical use, but Toms only replaces them every 12-24 months. So a child is in need of a pair of shoes more than they have them. And what happens if the sandal shipment doesn’t arrive on time? Families become dependent on a product or service with little say over how or when it happens.

This ties into my third, and most important, argument that the One for One model supports a mindset or idea of dependency. The people being supported through these programs become beneficiaries, not stakeholders. There’s rarely consultation with them on their needs or significant adaptation if a program is not working for them. It perpetuates a stereotype that poor people are helpless—that they need us to help them—and that they are passive. The poor do not need us doing things for them – they need access and the opportunity to do things for themselves.

Rather than taking aid into an area, what about creating a new industry? Handouts will not bring people out of poverty, but jobs and solid infrastructure can. Sourcing products from developing countries has huge financial benefits for an area. Of course it can be challenging, but if a company’s goal really is to serve the needy, what better way to do it? Help people help themselves.

I do not want to discourage people and organizations from philanthropic endeavors, but of utmost importance is the need to be mindful and responsible in how and what we give. I’m not here to denounce businesses using the One for One model, but rather to advocate for the careful evaluation of the impact and consequences of our giving efforts. We run into issues when we give solely with our hearts and not also with our heads. We cannot oversimplify the issues. It takes a concerted, intelligent, thoughtful effort to reduce poverty and make lasting change. The poor deserve the best we are in a position to give them.

Woman Crush Wednesday: Jacqueline Novograntz


“There’s a real moral imperative in being an organization that takes the time to sit and listen to the customers and the people they’re serving.” - Jacqueline Novograntz

Woman Crush Wednesday! We wanted to highlight an older (but still relevant) Forbes profile of Jacqueline Novograntz, founder of the Acumen Fund. This woman broke the mold of traditional aid systems by investing large amounts of capital into social entrepreneurs and their projects. Acumen Fellows improve the  lives of hundreds of thousands of poor people throughout the world.



Can Venture Capital Save The World?

Bahawalpur in eastern Pakistan is known for magnificent palaces built during the British Raj, but in the dusty part of town where most of the 400,000 residents actually live, four dozen farmers have gathered in the decidedly unpalatial concrete building that houses the local branch of the National Rural Support Programme Bank. Their darkened, sun-creased faces testify to the toll of tilling soil in one of the hotter places on Earth (at 11 a.m. in mid-June it’s ­already heading toward 105 degrees); many twist their hair into head scarves, and all don cotton ­tunics known as kurta.

Suddenly the front door swings open and a tall woman with piercing blue eyes and brownish blonde hair struts in, dressed in a red tunic and baggy pants. Accompanied by the bank’s president, Rashid Bajwa, Jacqueline Novogratz whips out her red notebook and gets down to business. “What kind of livestock do you have?” she asks one client. “How many male calves? How much money are you saving at the bank? What do you do with that cash?” An hour later, the notebook now filled with minute details of how, exactly, the farmers intend to pay back their loans, as well as whether their daughters go to school and what they want their children to do when they grow up, Novogratz walks out of the bank, satisfied. “I’m feeling optimistic about rural Pakistan,” she tells me, as a pickup truck, loaded with field hands, rumbles past a mosque. “Farmers are making good money.”

Novogratz plays the role of auditor because, as CEO and founder of the Acumen Fund, helping people starts with financial due diligence. In April Acumen sank $1.9 million into the bank in exchange for an 18% stake, one small investment in a decadelong experiment in charitable giving. Instead of shoveling aid dollars to causes or governments that give away life-­sustaining goods and services, Acumen espouses investing money wisely in small-time entrepreneurs in the developing world who strive to solve problems, from mosquito netting to bottled water to affordable housing. It’s a new twist on the old adage about teaching a man to fish, except that Novogratz wants to build an entire fish market.

The bank in Pakistan is a good example: Acumen’s financial injection has enabled the bank to lend small amounts (up to $350) to farmers. The bank charges 28% interest—exorbitant unless you consider the 9% to 10% the local money lenders charge per month. Acumen has given Pakistani farmers the ability to access cash at credit card rates, versus the loan shark terms of before—a staggering 125,000 clients have tapped the bank for $30 million in new credit this year. Novogratz’s infusion has also allowed the bank to take deposits for the first time, introducing the idea of savings, and 6% interest rates, to a community that has been locked in poverty for centuries. Since April 10,000 farmers have deposited $7 million in the bank, which of course has resulted in yet more loans.

 Novogratz obsesses over such numbers. ("How many liters per day of milk are the cows producing?” she asks a farmer later that afternoon as she takes cover from the heat in a grove of ­rosewood trees.) Hence, the signature notebook, which she ritually fills with observations and talking points that she turns into Acumen propaganda— specifically, Jacqueline’s Journal and Jacqueline’s Letter. Field visits, says the 50-year-old Novogratz, “give me insights and quantifiable data I can bring to conversations that have, frankly, been devoid of them for so long.”

Quantification is key. Acumen Fund is quite literally a philanthropic venture capital fund, which has put $69 million to work in India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Its loans and equity investments mandate the same benchmarks traditional VCs use, with a twist: Since the donor-investors don’t get their money back—all returns are reinvested in Acumen—progress is measured not in ROI but rather against the good that could have been done by simply giving the money away. No easy task but one that makes Acumen’s mission more critical: to prove that altruistic capitalism can solve the world’s ills.

Even in a dazzling clan of overachievers, Novogratz precociously stood out. Jacqueline’s six younger siblings include 48-year-old Bob, a designer and costar of Bravo’s 9 By Design, and 47-year-old Michael, a principal at the hedge fund Fortress Investment Group, worth $500 million the last time we looked. “By the time she was 4 years old I realized she was different,” says Novogratz’s mother, Barbara, who ran an antiques business while her husband, a West Point grad and U.S. Army major, served in Korea and Vietnam. “I knew she’d always be involved with people and try to help them. When Jacqueline was little her father would send letters back from Korea. They talked about poverty. She would ask, ‘Why are they poor?’” Brother Bob remembers his perfectionist big sister as “very Marcia Brady,” the girl who sold the most scout cookies, got the best grades and worked all night on projects: “She was always hell-bent on changing people’s minds about the world at a young age.” 

From there Novogratz’s narrative gets almost hagiographic, full of absurdly perfect coincidences and anecdotes that cause her supporters to nod with reverence and cynics to roll their eyes incredulously. She put herself through the University of Virginia, with a double major in economics and international relations, by tending bar and doing three part-time jobs. Then came the interview at Chase Manhattan Bank in which, asked if she wanted to be a banker, Novogratz replied she was only appeasing Mom and Dad, who wanted her to go through the motions “just for practice.” A pity, her interviewer re­plied, because she would’ve been able to visit 40 countries working for the bank. In a do-over that seems inconceivable, she answered the question afresh, declaring that she’d craved the life of a banker’s since she was a kid—she got the job, learned finance and, at age 22, started flying first-class around the world, reviewing the quality of loans, especially in troubled economies. 

After three years of traveling to countries like Brazil, where “throwaway people” had no access to commercial credit, Novogratz had a showdown with her boss over her idea of extending small loans to the working classes. She later quit and moved to Africa, where she consulted for the World Bank and Unicef, mainly in Rwanda, and helped found Duterimbere, the ­nation’s first microfinance bank.

Then, another seminal, if extraordinary, coincidence. As a girl Novogratz had been given a blue sweater by an uncle. She wore it constantly until, as an adolescent, she grew tired of being teased about the mountains embroidered across her chest; into the Goodwill bin it went. Now, while jogging one day in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, she came across a boy wearing the very sweater—confirmed when she accosted him and looked at the name tag. Her road-to-Kigali moment she took as a sign, as she writes in her 2009 memoir-cum-p.r. campaign, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, “to understand better what stood between poverty and wealth.”

 One early approach, decades before Acumen, was microfinance: Muhammad Yunus’ earliest efforts in Ban­gla­desh go back to the mid-1970s. But armed with Wall Street know-how and $8 million from the Rockefeller and Cisco foundations and three private donors, Acumen launched with its pioneering venture capital model in April 2001. The focus was health technology, at least until 9/11. After the attacks she convened a group of foreign policy experts to explain fundamentalist rage. Discussions turned to Pakistan, a geopolitically significant cauldron of anti-Western feeling. Asked by one of the assembled what she would do with $1 million, Novogratz said she would travel to the Muslim world and create institutions that “provide a sense of hope and possibility for those countries and the rest of the world.”

Weeks later Novogratz fortuitously got two anonymous gifts of $500,000 each and took her first trip to Pakistan in January 2002. Acumen has since invested $13 million there in 12 businesses: Ansaar Management Co. (affordable housing), Kashf Foundation (microlending to women) and Micro Drip (agricultural irrigation), among them. She has also collected $2.7 million from 40 Pakistani donors and traveled to that country 20 times, turning one of the most volatile, anti-American populations into a vibrant experiment in alleviating poverty.

An entire venture capital industry has sprung up, firms like Bamboo Finance, Grassroots BusinessFund and Small Enterprise Assistance Funds that all prefer the term “impact investors.” The Omidyar Network, launched in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, has invested $450 million in equity and grants to promote microfinance, entrepreneurship, technology and government transparency, mostly in developing countries.

Much of this action stems from Novogratz’s ability to draw attention—and donor dollars—to this approach. And indeed, by traditional venture capital measures, the Acumen Fund has done pretty well in its first decade: Of the 65 businesses funded so far 3 have bought back their shares from Acumen, 11 have repaid loans and 10 are profitable. Five companies have been written off, versus the 50% a typical venture capitalist will bury.

The difference is that VCs are happy to offset a high percentage of losers with home runs—one Facebook or Google seed investment swamps a dozen dogs. While Novogratz’s good investments don’t work that way, there has been a payoff. A recent report by the Global Impact Investing Network, a Manhattan nonprofit focused on making impact investing more effective, collected data from 463 organizations from 58 countries last year. The report claims their efforts resulted in 23,355 jobs at portfolio companies that generated $1.4 billion in revenue by serving nearly 8 million people. “It’s based on a relatively small number of organizations,” says Sara Gelfand, the project director. But because it’s anonymous information, “there’s no real incentive to create bogus data."

“I would say that at the broadest big-picture level, we’re optimistic this can make a big difference,” says Michael Kubzansky, a partner at Monitor Group in Cambridge, Mass., who has studied impact investing and spearheaded two comprehensive studies of market-based approaches in India and Africa. Key, he says, is getting the business model right, whether it’s providing cheap private education or contract farming. Success requires time and what Novogratz calls “patient capital,” which has a longer horizon (seven to ten years) than most antsy private investors are willing to give. Says Kubzansky: “It can succeed on a large scale and provide significant increase in income for those participating.” 

Many in the field want to take this a critical step further, to be able to measure societal impact beyond the number of lamps sold or low interest rates issued or income produced. “I think we have to measure them on more than just output,” says Michael Ingram, a director at Innovations for Poverty Action in New Haven, Conn. That means assessing if those lamps have led to greater productivity and increased wages—and helped lift people out of poverty.

That’s a complicated yardstick. Glob­al Easy Water Products of Aurangabad, India, which sells drip irrigation devices, is considered a win for Acumen because it is profitable (but will not release numbers to FORBES) and has boosted farmers’ income and crop yield and delivered savings in utility costs. Other successes are even tougher to pinpoint. D.light Design has sold 1 million solar-powered devices, mostly in India, and claims it “will have improved the quality of life for 50 million people” by 2015 but won’t share any financials with us. A to Z Textile Mills, which sells mosquito bed nets, depends on a giant customer: the Global Fund. “Is that a long-term risk?” Novogratz asks rhetorically. “No doubt. But in terms of social impact, making a dent in the universe, if you will, this one’s up there.”

With little incentive to walk away from an investment, Acumen has still written off a total $2.9 million. One casualty was the Affordable Hearing Aid Project; poor marketing and distribution doomed the $32 device. Efforts to bring U.S.-based Medicine Shoppe into India came a cropper by dint of overly rapid expansion and what Novogratz calls “a values misalignment.” Worried about accountability, Acumen abandoned Mitry, which made filters that removed excess fluoride from drinking water, because it insisted on selling the devices just to governments in India.

“We know we’re going to have losses,” says C. Hunter Boll, a former managing director at Thomas H. Lee, the private equity giant, and an unpaid Acumen director, who has donated $1 million. “We’re investing in high-risk ventures in tough parts of the world.” Boll concedes the whole enterprise is “harder than I thought going in. It’s difficult to find great entrepreneurs with a social mission and a business plan that makes sense.” Success, he insists, must also be judged in terms beyond return of capital. “We’re developing talent, leadership, influencing the world.”

 Indeed, last year Acumen spent $682,000 on a program to “find, nurture, support and celebrate new leaders,” says Novogratz—one line in an expense budget of $8.3 million, which, at 58% of revenue, is very high by traditional nonprofit standards. “Overhead is a tricky conversation because everyone mea­sures [it] in different ways,” says Novogratz, who personally makes $270,000. The $1.9 million spent on consultants in 2010 for, say, learning about water systems? “I wouldn’t call the work we’re doing in knowledge and metrics overhead,” she says. That $682,000 nurturing program? Acumen responds that two-thirds of the 44 alumni of that program have launched or plan to launch a social enterprise within five years—a down payment on future improvements to the social order.

While Novograntz officially lives in Manhattan, near Acumen’s brightly colored offices in Chelsea, with her husband, ideas impresario and TED curator Chris Anderson, she spends half of her time on the road, much of it grilling potential investments and eventual end users across the developing world. The $536,000 in travel costs aside, it seems like time wasted. Acumen still boasts $88 million in assets, but pledges and grants from donors have tailed off. As the face of Acumen, Novogratz provides the biggest added value by raising donor money, rather than looking under the hood of a Gulu Agricultural Development Co.—the kind of task Acumen’s 26 portfolio associates are perfectly qualified to do.

Novogratz thinks her travels send a message: “There’s a real moral imperative in being an organization that takes the time to sit and listen to the customers and the people they’re serving.” More critically, she sees a direct correlation between shoring up her donor stream and the scribbles in her notebook.

That’s why I find myself in a rural village 10 miles outside the city of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. Novogratz has come to check on another investment—and to collect the precious data she hopes to use in new fundraising. Here on 20 acres, Saiban, a nonprofit developer, has built homes for an eventual 450 Pakistani families, most of whom earn $2 to $4 a day. The $4,000 units are 85% occupied. You see the occasional motorcycle parked in front, where a few women mill about, talking or hanging laundry.

Novogratz sits with a preselected group, red journal open and pen poised. “How can you help me describe how life has changed since you moved to Saiban, versus how it was before? What are the things that I can measure?” She leans forward, with a hopeful expression. One man speaks of greater confidence and optimism; another mentions the community spirit.

These aren’t the answers Novogratz is fishing for. She wants to hear examples of people using their homes as collateral to get college loans for their children or amassing a better dowry for their daughters so they can marry into a more prosperous family. She wraps up the meeting. “So, the next time I come, you’re going to have some good metrics for me? ’Cause this is my challenge for the world.” Someone says, “Inshallah [God willing].”

Novogratz smiles, but shakes her head: “Not inshallah. We’re going to do it!”


We've Hit A Milestone!

Three of our new beneficiaries! 

Three of our new beneficiaries! 

Today we made our first round of tuition payments for six of our artisans’ children! This is very meaningful because it's an indicator that together we are making impactful change. For me, this is the spirit and soul of BFF. 

We are both thrilled and relieved to finally be in a position to support our artisans through our giving model. It has not been the straightforward course I had envisioned and has taken far more time, thought and resources than I ever imagined. For that reason I'm hoping that by sharing my pitfalls and setbacks along the way I can help other organizations develop giving models that come to fruition in a more timely and less painful way. Those of you who have been following this blog may start to yawn now because I am about to repeat the most important element of determining your giving method--we must listen to the needs of those we are trying to serve. I have to admit I failed to properly listen to our artisans and their needs at the beginning of this business and had grandiose plans for our giving model. My incorrect assumptions required us to pause, reconsider and start over.

I originally came to Lydia with an idea to create Best Foot Forward, a company that would import and sell these beautiful shoes while at the same time doing good for Kenya. But I did not have a true understanding of what doing good would means. I knew about coastal Kenya, where the shoes are made, but I’d never traveled there nor spoken with anyone from the area. I only knew what the Internet could tell me, which honestly wasn’t much. I learned that there are several nonprofits in that area, but there is a lack of quality infrastructure, schooling, etc. I also knew that unemployment rates were upwards of 40%, even higher for women, youth and other marginalized groups.

These numbers are the result of lack of quality education and infrastructure, sure, but also this area used to have a lucrative tourism industry. This is not surprising considering an ocean teeming with wildlife, white sand beaches and  gorgeous weather. But unfortunately, this area which once had a booming industry has experienced a recession due to threats by al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group. With various sleeper cells in the vicinity and attacks planned, tourist traffic has decreased. While there were once jobs available for people in the tourism industry, these are becoming harder to come by and less consistent. With fewer employment opportunities, quality of life decreases.

Knowing all of this, I felt inspired to do something about the unemployment rates. I first wanted to establish a vocational school in Malindi to encourage unemployed groups to learn a marketable skill. The idea was that eventually we could hire several trainees into our business as we expanded. But the more time I spent in Malindi with our artisans, the more I realized how inundated Malindi was with trainings on every topic trying to encourage people to learn new skills. But without creating new markets for the products being created there are no buyers, and therefore no need, for these newly skilled workers. Those who are able to secure a job often receive insufficient incomes due to the high supply of semi-trained labor in the area. Although the vocational school was a “sexy” idea, it wasn’t practical for the area and the very people we were hoping to help.  While we were well intentioned, we would have done more harm than good by creating unobtainable expectations and burning through the limited resources we possessed.

I discovered that a larger impact could be done on a smaller scale. We have since shifted our focus to our own artisans, ensuring their short and longer term needs are adequately met before expanding outwards. Our artisans are now paid significantly higher than the industry standard and we are dedicated to ensure working conditions are safe. We have also established an artisan development fund in which we work with our artisans to determine solutions to their needs as well as their families' and the community as a whole. Our artisans work with us to decide where the funds are allocated because we’ve learned they know their community and its needs far better than we do. It’s our job to facilitate these projects and not to lead them. 

At our last meeting, we discussed some of the root causes of poverty in the area. We all agreed that having access to quality education opens doors and improves quality of life in the long-term. So together we started an education fund which sends our artisans’ children to the school of their choice in the area. Free handouts are not a solution to poverty alleviation. For that reason we use the education fund as an employment incentive. The longer an artisan works with us, the more of their children we will send to school. We review report cards to ensure these children are attending school regularly and are working hard. For those who do not have children, they receive food support instead, freeing up income for other necessities. But we are not stopping at education. We have big plans to provide health insurance, day care and other forms of support.

Now I’m not suggesting that Best Foot Forward is perfect, but we are learning from our mistakes and making a conscious effort to be more responsible and ethical in our business practices and giving model. I’ve come to realize that my role in this whole process is really to be a conduit. I must listen, consider and then together we can take thoughtful action. And I need to sell more shoes so that we are can send more children to school!

Buy Handcrafted

How often do you buy handcrafted products?



Article from Mental Floss

11 Benefits of Buying Handcrafted Products

Handcrafted products can offer higher quality and more attention to detail – but they can give buyers some surprising side benefits as well.

1. Handcrafted Products Are Green.

Work done by hand takes less energy than a mass production assembly line, which makes it more environmentally sustainable. This is particularly true if the commercial good is produced overseas and needs to be shipped a very long distance to reach the consumer.

2. Handcrafted Products Are Good for the Job Market.

Another reason you should feel good about spending your money on hand-crafted products? Doing so creates jobs. One study found that shifting just 10 percent of consumer spending in a particular area to locally owned businesses would create hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in local wages.

3. Handcrafted Products Are Worth More.

A number of experiments have shown that people value an object more highly when they are led to believe it contains an “air of authenticity,” for example, if they were told it was a work of art. This means that artisan products, be they jewelry or jam, are perceived to have more value in society.

4. Handcrafted Products Are Also Just Better.

It’s not just an amorphous air of authenticity that causes people to shell out more for handcrafted products. Handcrafted goods are often just better. A study of coffee found that 47 percent of respondents said it tastes better when prepared by hand compared to just 11 percent who are happy to settle for machine-produced drinks.

5. Handcrafted Products Make You Feel Good About Your Purchases.

And if you’re like most Americans, that’s something you prioritize. A 2012 survey found that 87 percent of American consumers felt that businesses should place at least as much weight on society's interests as they do on business interests. Supporting local artisans and their eco-conscious business practices certainly fits the bill.

6. Handcrafted Products Help Communities.

Studies have shown that locally owned independent businesses —many of which sell wares produced by hand— return a higher percentage of their revenue to their communities than chains. That means the people who make money off sales at independent businesses, owners and employees, are more likely to spend their salary at places in the same area where they work.

7. Handcrafted Products Can Meet Your Needs Better.

Often with handmade goods, you have the option of customizing your purchase. Because you’re often dealing directly with the artisans when you purchase handcrafted products, they might be open to tweaking certain aspects of the product specifically to fit your needs.

8. Handcrafted Products Offer a Fuller Experience.

A study researching cheeses in Vermont found that consumers prefer buying “artisan” cheese because they feel it provides a fuller “sensory experience.” This is a factor of both intrinsic properties, like better taste, and extrinsic properties, like the joy of finding something you really love. Even just the knowledge that a product was handcrafted contributed to the feeling of a better experience because there is a relatable, knowable back-story.

9. Handcrafted Products Are Easier to Buy and More Popular Than Ever.

The Internet is packed with a burgeoning industry of handmade marketplaces – more and more people are embracing handcrafted goods. Some handcrafted sites saw a 71 percent increase in sales in just one year from 2010 to 2011. Buying handmade goods online allows you access to the skills of artisans around the world.

10. Handcrafted Products Are Unique.

One of the most prevalent, although least quantifiable, reasons people report for choosing to purchase handcrafted goods is that they just like having something that didn’t come from a big company. The nature of handmade goods means that there are fewer of them, so whatever you’re wearing or eating or adding to your home is as unique as you are.

11. Handcrafted Products Support a Tradition of Skilled Work.

We’ve seen that supporting your local artisan is good for the community, but it’s also good for the art. As technology makes it possible to replace skilled workers with machines it’s important to keep hand-making goods a financially feasible career choice.

August 8th Elections

Lines to vote across Kenya can be miles long and the wait several hours

Lines to vote across Kenya can be miles long and the wait several hours

We often take for granted the institutions that exist that give people trust in our voting systems in the United States. Whether or not we like the results, we believe the results to be an accurate representation of those who voted. This is not the case in Kenya.

I have closely been watching the build up to the hotly contested August 8th elections. During our most recent trip to Kenya, the BFF team spoke with friends, taxi drivers, shop owners and our artisans about the elections and what they thought would happen. On the coast, people felt optimistic that tensions would not boil over. In Nairobi, reports were less confident, both in the voting process and in the likelihood of peace. While the results of the election are important, the process of getting those results and people's faith in those results are just as significant and called into question.

Further increasing tensions for yesterday's election was the abduction, torture and murder of Chris Msando within 2 weeks of Election Day. Mr. Msando was acting Director for the Kenyan Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and was in charge of the computerized voting systems, further delegitimizing an already precarious event. The investigation into his death is still ongoing.

Although it will take some time for the results to be finalized, it looks like the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta has readily beaten opposition leader, Raila Odinga. We're all waiting with bated breath as Kenyatta's maintaining of power will unfold. Odinga is claiming he has evidence the election results are fraudulent. Smaller scale riots have broken out, but nothing like that of 2007 thus far.

The 2007 election led to a humanitarian, political and economic crisis of epic proportions. As the opposition refused to accept the results of the tense election, riots, gangs and violence left upwards of 1,100 people dead and 650,000 displaced from their homes. Few perpetrators have been held accountable for their actions, leaving many Kenyans with a sense of injustice. After being accused of orchestrating the violence, both current President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto faced charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, but the court dropped the charges and cited unprecedented witness interference and bribery. 

Fortunately the 2013 election, although tense, did not mirror the instability and violence that we saw in 2007. The international community was happily surprised by the aftermath, although the opposition again questioned the authenticity of the results and 400 people were killed during instances of unrest.

Many millions in Kenya (as in many places around the world) continue to feel marginalized, like the government does not support their interests. Tribal ties have been politicized as the Kikuyu ethnic group has maintained general power since independence in 1963. The opposition feels as though the political system is unfair and favors the Kikuyu at the expense of the 30+ other ethnic groups in Kenya.

An outbreak of violence following the finalized election results would be disappointing but not surprising. Unfortunately, a lack of stability in the country affects the well being of people like our artisans, who have fled to more rural villages fearing election violence. We're anxiously awaiting their return when the situation is safe.

The results of this election as well as the response will have huge impact on future Kenyan elections as well as the legitimacy of its democratic ideals within the international community. For up to date information on the 2017 election, I'd recommend taking a look at the Human Rights Watch page.




Interested in volunteering abroad? This term has been coined, voluntourism: essentially volunteer travel or a volunteer vacation where people volunteer while also participating in tourist activities. While many come back with rave reviews of their travels, voluntourism has received extensive critique in the way it can be harmful for the local communities participants are hoping to help.

Having had something of a similar experience doing a study abroad in college, I was left conflicted, although deeply positively impacted, by the experience. While not all voluntourist experiences are created equal, in their impact and/or harm, I encourage you all to critically explore the ways in which we give, volunteer, and work to make this world a better place.

I found this article on the practice extremely helpful in that it does not outright reject the practice, but focuses on critically investigating programs you may want to consider. Its insight and advice are far more articulate than I could ever be!


The term poverty denotes malnutrition, scarcity and the developing world, particularly Africa. But these images that are evoked don’t do the term justice. Mirriam Webster defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. So when we are working to bring people out of poverty, what is the end goal and what are the priorities for development?

In the past, some have focused on top-down approaches, on investing in governments and then letting that trickle down into the citizenry. Some approaches focus on establishing democracy first and then focusing on economically empowering its citizens. Others focus on increasing incomes of citizens, establishing a solid middle class first and then democratizing and empowering. There are now new approaches that focus increasingly on the individual and bottom-up approaches to poverty.

The UN prioritized its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the turn of the century. It outlined eight poverty reduction goals that were to be reached by 2015 as agreed upon by all member states. These goals had very specific targets and indicators but it aimed to:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

The MDGs were the first worldwide embrace of development issues, but they were very much “don’t rock the boat”, concrete policies that ignore several issues including social health, people with disabilities, etc.

These differing policies and priorities beg the question: what is development and who is it for? There are several answers to this question, but here are a few:

  • Increasing income/consumption
  • Building human capabilities and skills
  • Rectifying social exclusion
  • Increasing participation/citizenship

The definition for poverty might indicate that the goal of development should be to focus exclusively on increasing income/consumption, but that’s not Best Foot Forward’s approach. We believe that poverty is not exclusively the absence of material possessions, but rather an absence of opportunity that limits a person in their relative position. We have adopted a bottom-to-top participatory approach that empowers people to participate in their own development. National economic growth is not enough; it is about lifting the poorest of the poor out of poverty through opportunity. By investing in our artisans we are helping people to help themselves.

Guest Blogger: Reflections From The Kenya Trip

Guest Blog this week from Lindsay McTavish, BFF's Director of Operations:


Coastal Kenya

Coastal Kenya

A funny sign in our journey...

A funny sign in our journey...

It is easy to imagine that it might be difficult to describe coherently my first impressions (let alone remember them) after traveling in the same set of clothes in an upright position for 12,471 miles. According to Google that is the mileage from Nairobi to Santa Barbara via LAX. Google does not have the ability to take into account the exhaustion of getting up at 2:15am to catch a 5:00am flight nor the energy drain of being processed through 11 security checks in between. Nor does it include the frustration of watching the luggage carousel circling around and around and around with the same seemingly unloved and unclaimed bags. But even the trials and tribulations of current day air travel and my lack of sleep could not dampen my enthusiasm for the people, culture, wildlife and landscape of Kenya.

There are the visual ones – bright colors, aqua marine water, potholes, white knuckle rides in tuk-tuks (3 wheeled taxis very similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland), wandering vines, bougainvillea in purple, red and orange, lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, glorious fresh fruit, red dirt, “butcheries” with sides of beef hanging in the open window, warthogs, shining tall skyscrapers with dirt sidewalks in front and the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen.

A baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

A baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

There are the auditory ones – the rhythmic pulse and whine of the tuk-tuk engines, birds singing, cooing and squawking, hooting (aka honking) cars, listening to our wonderful driver Jeff’s Kenyan CD over and over and over again until I am fairly sure while I can not speak many words in Swahili I certainly can sing them, the singsong of the Swahili language especially in saying "Jambo” (hello) and “lala salama” (sleep well).

Fitting 4 people in a tuk-tuk

Fitting 4 people in a tuk-tuk

But most importantly there are the memories held in my heart.  I tear up when I think about the shyness and humility of the artisans as they told me their dreams for their children, the deep sense of family, the respect shown to me as Caleigh’s “mama", the incredulity of the artisans receiving prints of the pictures we had taken of them the day before, the laughter and conviviality during each work day, the pride in their trade, touching the orphaned baby elephants, the generosity of spirit despite the lack of resources, the realization that I am more grateful for the relationships I have with my children than the items I may own.

I was profoundly moved by my time in Kenya.  I went with a sense of fear and by the end of our visit I was not ready to leave. I have returned to Santa Barbara with a renewed and focused devotion to the mission of Best Foot Forward. As a mother I cannot rest until all the children of the workshop have an opportunity to become all that their parents dream for them.

I hope you will join me in this journey as we continue to put our best foot forward.