When Sseko Designs founder Liz Bohannon, traveled to Uganda after her college graduation, she was expecting to do some simple nonprofit work before returning back to the United States. What she did not expect was the life-changing adventure that awaited her. Through meeting and surrounding herself with the local women, Liz began to see the need for change…and she saw a way to make that change happen. With dreams of a brighter tomorrow, Sseko Designs was born. Through dignified employment, dozens of women have earned the opportunity for a college education and continue to do so. We talked with Liz about her vision and the strength it took to bring it to life.
4word: How did you find the courage to act on the injustice you saw in Uganda?
Liz: Although I had grown increasingly passionate about women living in extreme poverty, I lived in a world that was very disconnected to that reality. I moved to Uganda first and foremost to learn. I experienced most of the things that I anticipated: poverty, disease and injustice. But I also found so much hope, progress and opportunity. Ugandans who are deeply committed to their communities and countries—and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. After meeting these young women and becoming friends, I was convinced that the world would be better off if they had the opportunity to continue their educations and become leaders in their communities. Starting Sseko as a way to help provide opportunity and bridge that gap certainly didn’t feel like a courageous act, it felt more like the next logical step born out of these relationships.
4word: How did you overcome the obstacles that came with starting a business in a foreign country?
Liz: The greatest asset to this process is a finely tuned (and I’m still learning about this!) balance between absolute tenacity and humility. You’ve got to figure out how you can never take “No” or “Not possible” for an answer and while also having a willingness to humbly listen and consider the people surrounding you. You have to see it as a great adventure. If you’re hoping for an easy or quick or efficient process, you’ll only get frustrated and defeated. But if you see it as an interesting challenge and problem to be solved, expecting many hiccups and potholes along the way, everyone will be happier!
4word: There’s a tendency among college graduates to be defined by their degree. How did you push past the typical boundaries of a journalism/communications degree and tackle starting a business?
Liz: I would encourage students to think less about their degree and more about their skills and experience. Every “degree” is really just a certain focus on a set of skills. I graduated with a journalism degree. But journalism isn’t just about news and reporting. It is about telling a story and using multiple channels and techniques to communicate in a clear and compelling way. It is about asking hard questions and not being satisfied with the easy or expected answer. It is about connecting the dots to things that are seemingly unrelated (shoes and women’s education!) and exploring those possibilities.
I’d encourage students to use their degree as a guide and a platform, but to think more creatively and broadly about the possibilities. Four years into starting this company (with my journalism degree!) I am more convinced than ever that there are very few things you can’t learn if you’re willing to ask questions and work hard. And the truth is, you’ll learn those things much faster in ‘trial and error’ mode then you will in a classroom.
4word: Where did the name Sseko Designs come from?
Liz: Enseko is the word for laughter in Luganda, a common language in Uganda.
4word: Do you see Sseko Designs as a forerunner for women in other countries? Are there plans to expand?
Liz: Yes! Our vision is that Sseko will play a role in empowering and educating women throughout the world. There are plans to expand outside of Uganda in the near future. Stay tuned!
4word: What can our readers do to help empower women around the globe?
Liz: So many things! My first encouragement is to think about your own gifts and passions and how those can be utilized. Ask hard questions and commit yourself to something specific. It is easy to get overwhelmed! I think in our day to day lives, the way we treat, encourage, challenge and empower the women in our own lives is a great place to start. And of course, think about women around the globe when you shop! Support companies like Sseko and others that are committed to creating a more just and peaceful world.
How can your gifts and passions be used, right now, to empower women locally? Abroad? You can learn more about Sseko Designs, or place an order, by clicking here.