Made is a fair trade enterprise that produces high quality designer accessories, sourced and created within disadvantaged communities across East Africa, grounded in the ethos of 'trade not aid.'
These are the posts you've been digging the most:
- Inspired adornments from Rachel Stewart
- Interview with TMS Ruge of Project Diaspora
- Interview with Afro-soul Songstress Rafiya
- Interview with Artist Chief Nyamweya
- Interview with Agnes Kuye of Senga K Designs
*Intel from Google Analytics
Images from top: Rachel Stewart, TMS Ruge, Rafiya, Chief Nyamweya, Agnes Kuye. See respective posts for full image credits. Incidentally, the images in this post read like a natural afro hair poster – one love!
I used to imagine how wonderful the world would be if everybody simply did what they loved without concern for money. The idea was that we would barter our work. Need a house? Get in touch with the guy who loves building houses. Need a new dress? Get in touch with the woman who loves making clothes. And so on. This vision was guided by faith in the diversity of humanity – that there were enough people out there who loved to do all the different things that would need to get done, in order for our societies to function. People who loved to balance accounts, people who loved paperwork, people who loved to clean etc.
In this vision, the exchange of services would not necessarily be linear. I would not have to do something for you just because you did something for me. After all, you might not need what I have to offer but there would be somebody else out there who did. Again, faith in the diversity of humanity in that, at the end of the day, the supplies would match the demands.
Ideal come true
Imagine my excitement when, a few weeks ago, I heard about timebanking. In brief, people (and organisations, facilities etc.) 'deposit' their time by giving help and support to others. They can then 'withdraw' time when they themselves need something. The beauty is that, the different skills, resources and talents of a community are effectively pooled and the interaction and collective action facilitates and fosters community engagement and all the benefits that come with that. A pioneering UK organisation, Spice, has had great success with the model and it has me thinking about the possibility of transferring some of these ideas to African contexts.
Shiny, glittery, precious time
One amazing thing about timebanking is that, those involved are putting a premium on what I consider to be one of our most valuable resources – time. Our time is all we have and yet we so often squander it as if it exists in constant supply! As if it is so abundant as to be relatively worthless. We spend it doing things that bring us no joy; we spend it doing things that take away our joy and; we spend it being knocked about by the consequences of our mindlessness.
I've been guilty of this myself: always busy, doing a million things, responding to every kind of request, coming in from every direction and generally steering off the course of where I want to go. Exhausted, I've often longed for evenings spent in front of the TV, under a flimsy illusion of that comatose activity equating relaxation. Overextending myself on the one hand and feeling that "there aren't enough hours in the day" and then, on the other hand, wasting those very hours. It's quite insane and it shows: feeling stressed out, feeling imbalanced, feeling unproductive and feeling unsatisfied.
The time of reckoning
And then there is the moment when it all comes to a head and a force intervenes (the universe, God or whatever you believe in). For some it is in the guise of an illness or injury that forces them to slow down, or stop, and thus gives them the time and space to reflect on the course their lives are taking. For others it is a major project gone wrong, an exceptionally nightmarish client or an investment gone sour. For still others, it's feeling overwhelmed and out of control. It can even be as extreme as seemingly losing everything that you hold dear.
Whatever it is for you, it's likely to be disconcerting, frightening and to be hard to even consider that it is actually an opportunity for good things to happen. That it is the possibility of a turning point towards a more positive experience, rather than merely the dark moment it initially appears to be. That in fact, you are being given the chance to live a more mindful, purposeful, passionate, joyous and enriching life!
I guess many of us miss, distrust or ignore the signs and keep on robbing ourselves of our own precious time. We are lucky however, that the signs are persistent and that they will most likely appear throughout our days. That means endless opportunities to make better decisions and start living the lives we want. If we invest time into imagining what those lives can be, we may already be half way there.
Do what you love
Do what you love. I've always appreciated this advice and in the past year and a half, I've seen, firsthand, the results in action! It's not without its challenges – it definitely means some readjustments to the life you may have been accustomed to, e.g. financial expectations, the security of being employed, conventional ways of working etc. However, and I've probably already bored many with this assertion, the rewards more than make up for any teething period trials. And I say this while not yet clear of the latter! The freedom and control over your own time give you the space to bring into creation the things you've dreamt of.
While this world is still governed by the exchange of goods and services for money, I observe many more people providing goods and services out of love rather than purely for money. I feel it's a significant step. With organisations such as Spice, who are keeping their eyes on the most rewarding prize – community and essentially, love – I'm hopeful that some version of my original vision is actually possible. Half way there?
There's a lot of inspiration out there to help you reclaim your time, and your life! Here's some that I've found particularly useful lately:
- "What happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space" Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen
- Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction, an book by Leo Babauta (download the free and premium versions on focusmanifesto.com)
I just discovered Proud Mary (via Design*Sponge), a company that believes in the power of design to solve problems. Working with artisan cooperatives in developing nations, in the spirit of beneficial exchange of ideas and resources, Proud Mary markets unique handcrafted patterned goods. They're ticking all the sustainability boxes (people, planet, profit)!
Image from their South Africa collection.
Last week, I was all excited, preparing to go to a Kenyan party-slash-concert. It was less about the particular musician visiting and more about being with my fellow Kenyans and experiencing a little taste of home.
First impressions: the venue was quite obscure – an Indian restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Further impressions: my little stereo could put the sound system to shame and the wine tasted of millet porridge. Crucial impression: the musician did not show up until 4am! At this point, we were leaving so, I'm yet to find out if he actually performed at all! On my way out, a man who I presume was one of the organisers, restrained me to make this plea – that I stay for, even if the artist performed for 2 minutes, it would be worth the wait.
A little over a week ago, I travelled to Wales to run a workshop with university students, on design for good. Specifically exploring how graphic design can contribute to positive change.
It was a rewarding day. The students were engaged, creative and humorous, and I can't wait to see what they come up with in response to the term-long brief I've set them.
Key questions explored included:
- Why design? Why do we designers do what we do? What can it achieve?
- Why design for good? What benefit to planet, profit and especially, people? What's in it for the designer him or herself?!
- How can we design for good? Why should people care? How can we present our ideas and messages about positive action in ways that are useful and desirable to people? What tools are at our disposal for this mission?
I know I always hammer on about the significance of starting all journeys and enquiries with the self. In true form, I asked the students why they have chosen to be designers in the first place. Their responses included: "to communicate," "to educate," "it's challenging."
Why am I a designer? To help improve people's wellbeing. Whether that be through supporting the activities that provide their livelihood; affirming their identity and uniqueness; encouraging respect of self, community and environment or; through facilitating communication and interaction between groups for the mutual benefit of all.
That involves designing/facilitating experiences and this blog is an example of such.
At the end of the design for good day, what's key is respecting diversity. Nature demonstrates this to us every day and we designers, and people in general, can learn a lot by observing it. People are different and are driven and excited by different things. Our role as designers is to truly understand who our audiences are, what attitudes they have towards the changes we are encouraging and for us to find away to position positive change as exciting, useful and desirable. We have to inspire.
"Ultimately, it is the agenda with which we approach the making of things that must be truly diverse."
— Michael Braungart & William McDonough
And final inspiration from US President, John F. Kennedy:
"The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.We need people who can dream of things that never were."
If you're interested in exploring design for good with your students, company or organisation, please do get in touch. I'd love to help you get people excited and inspired!
Images: some great books on the subject including Do Good Design: How Design can Change our World: How Communicators can Save the World by David B. Berman, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we make Things by Michael Braungart & William McDonough, Massive Change: A Manifesto for the Future Global Design Culture by Bruce Mau
— Julius Nyerere, Mwalimu (Teacher), Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation), first President of Tanzania and previously Tanganyika
A call for grassroots intiatives; bottom-up rather than top-down approaches and generally; empathising with what exists, coming up with appropriate interventions that are context-specific and driven by the very people who will live them.
The way forward or unrealistic? What say you?
As a student, it was difficult to learn about African graphic designers, let alone ones concerned with channelling the power of design for good. I remember the excitement I experienced when I finally discovered Chaz Maviyane-Davies.
Here was somebody creating striking, clever and provocative work. Challenging several perceptions at the same time:
Last week was another busy one on the blog with Afri-inspiration coming from all angles. The new interview series continued with two really energizing interviews with young Africans doing great things for the advancement of our continent.
A round-up of posts incase you missed any:
- Quote of the week: a challenge to transcend perceptions from Simon Gikandi
- Visual inspiration from Morocco's Boucherouite rugs
- Interviews: Afro-MP3 co-founder, Mutsai Musa; social entrepreneur, Project Diaspora co-founder, TMS Ruge
- Reflecting on the exponential value of taking things easy
- TGIF! The East African edition of classic African tunes
- Independence Day celebrations: Uplifting music from Lesotho; Uganda's son, TMS Ruge
A huge thanks to you for taking the time to read and share comments, facebook appreciation and tweet love. Remember, you can also get updates via facebook, twitter and you can also subscribe to the Afri-love feed.
Feedback is incredibly useful to me so, please drop me a line with any comments, suggestions, ideas etc.
This coming week, look out for:
- Quote of the week
- Africa on film in London town
- An esteemed African graphic agitator whose uses design as a torch of social good
- Foxy African-inspired adornment
- Interviews with more passionate young Africans doing big things
- A celebration for Equatorial Guinea's Independence Day
- Reflections on food and the things we take for granted
- TGIF! A Fela extravaganza to celebrate the legend's birthday
Have a fantastic week! Be proud and be inspired.
Today I'm honoured to share with you an interview with someone who so totally embodies the Afri-love spirit. We're starting Uganda's independence day celebrations a day early with Ugandan-born social entrepreneur, photographer, African futurist, Africa by Africa evangelist, African digerati, connector and co-founder of Project Diaspora, TMS Ruge.
Demonstrating that out of sight does not mean out of mind, Ruge works to engage Africans in the diaspora to consider, and take action towards, charting the future path of our continent. It's about determining the quality of our own lives in the way that ultimately, only we can.
Through Project Diaspora, Ruge has set up Uganda Medicinal Plants Growers Ltd. (UMPG) that works with subsistence farmers, giving them the knowledge and tools to transform their efforts into commercial with access to local and international markets.
Ruge has also recently launched Women of Kireka, a jewelry-making co-operative providing a safe livelihood for women displaced by war in Northern Uganda.
What's your passion?
That's a loaded question. But I suppose the best way to surmise is to say I am passionate about all things that advance the Africa by and for Africans. I think that encompasses everything that I do. Be it using social media to engage with other Africans on the ground and in the Diaspora on development matters; debating technology and Africa in a panel discussion; or investing in the education of individuals on the ground. It all has a purpose and that purpose is to inspire other Africans in the Diaspora to engage the continent and each other.
What inspired you to start Project Diaspora?
I could say cubicle boredom but that wouldn't be completely true. PD started as a mission to have a conversation with other members of the Diaspora. To see what they were doing, where they were and to get a temperature on the strength of the bond between us in the West and the continent. At the time, I was investing in the higher education of my siblings and I could see how it affected their livelihoods. So I wanted to see who else was out there doing bigger and better things.
It continues to be that platform for us: where we get to have a voice on the development of our continent; share best practices on starting your own projects on the continent; engage in wide-ranging debates including the role of technology on the continent and; to showcase the projects we invest in.
What has been the greatest challenge in carrying out your work?
I would be remiss if I didn't say finding our niche has been the toughest thing for us to do. Scaling and sustaining the organization is another. The diaspora is very diverse and immense and nuanced. So much to cover for such a little team. Any of those issues are surmountable with proper funding of course – we'll get there.
How do you deal with/transcend it?
The best way I think, is to focus on what you do and use that as a lighting rod for engagement. We've decided to put our energies and finances into the projects we are investing in, in Uganda. Mainly Project UMPG and Women of Kireka. If the core of our being is to highlight the huge differences we can make in our communities, then showcasing our projects is the best way to do that. Those two projects we invest in, alone make a positive difference in the lives of about 1000 men, women and children.
Four women of Kireka. Clockwise from top left: Gloria Achan, Getrude Abo, Jennifer Achiro and Jasinta Achen. Click here to read their stories and those of the other women of Kireka.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not quitting. The refusal to pack it in when the going gets tough has to be my greatest achievement I think. Things will get tough, all will appear lost and I'll get impatient. Tracy, my co-founder, is always keen to remind me that things sometimes take the time they are supposed to take. Not everything is going to be on my schedule. As frustrating as that is to hear, it is very true.
Where will you be in 10 years?
Physically, I hope to have a much bigger presence in Uganda and East Africa, expanding our investments and doing my part to develop the continent. I hope I'll be happy with what I have accomplished so far with Project Diaspora and would love to see other initiatives bearing fruit. But more than likely, I'll be up in a tree, shaking the branches loose of their mangoes.
How does Africa inspire you?
Africa inspires me in so many different ways, but mostly because I see the vast potential for improvements everywhere. I love the entrepreneurial spirit embodied in the informal sector in just about every city you will visit. This thriving spirit to do for yourself and provide for your family against great odds. I am inspired by the children who will laugh, sing and dance despite having only toys they've made from banana stalk. I am inspired by how youthful the continent is. Over 400 million under the age of 16 and growing up fast in a digital revolution. There's a renaissance coming to the continent, and I am inspired by what that means. I am inspired by the promise of the changing of the guards, in our political elite, as new thinking shoves the old guard "hippo" ranks by the way side and, ushers in impassioned leaders with vision and the gumption to carry them out. I am inspired by this promise and so much more…
Anything else you'd like to share?
I don't think we do enough collaboration. I think we must and should increase trade within Africa. Break down the country borders and increase regional trade. If we start here, we can go far in terms of development. And i think this also goes for the members of the Diaspora. I think social media has really made it very easy for us to connect. So extend those connections into real-life action with partnerships. If we begin to work side by side, it is hard not to be excited by the possibilities.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Yeah, we just launched the new online shop for Women of Kireka. We'll start shipping their first batch of jewelry by mid-month. Next month we are planning on taking the TEDx series of conferences to the village level to talk about the MDGs. We are really excited about this conference because the poor that we always refer to, rarely have a voice. So we are taking the microphone to them. It is hard to foresee the turn out, but I think we'll be pleasantly surprised.
Follow Ruge's adventures, rallying cries and thought patterns on Twitter. Diaspora Africans: we have our work cut out for us – may the doing begin!
Happy weekend everybody and happy independence day to all my Ugandan sisters and brothers.
Images courtesy of TMS Ruge and Project Diaspora.