News

14Feb
Blog

People laughed at my business idea. Now I run a global brand.

When I started soleRebels many people laughed and said I was crazy. “Your plan is to remake the barabasso into a global footwear brand leveraging the artisan talents in THAT community? What kind of business idea is that?”

To tell you the truth, sometimes I felt like we were crazy.

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By Bethlehem Alemu - soleRebels / Garden of Coffee | Forbes World's 100 Most Powerful Women

When I started soleRebels many people laughed and said I was crazy. “Your plan is to remake the barabasso* into a global footwear brand leveraging the artisan talents in THAT community? What kind of business idea is that?”

To tell you the truth, sometimes I felt like we were crazy.

You see, I grew up in two worlds. The world that I knew of - one of rich culture, creativity and skill, and the world that society told me I was part of - one of poverty, incompetence and hopelessness.

I was born and raised in the Zenabwork/Total suburb of Addis Ababa, one of the most impoverished and marginalized communities of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, I grew up steeped inside Ethiopia’s rich artisan heritages. I saw my mom hand spinning raw cotton into fine threads that were then used by our talented family members to hand-weave into amazing textiles like Gabbis** and Netallas***. I saw her hand-picking coffee beans for our ancient coffee ceremony and roasting them into the most amazing elixirs I have ever sipped. I saw my family and neighbors constantly creating and improvising inside these cultures. And yet, Ethiopia had plenty of charity “brands”, but not a single global brand of our own.

With all the incredible culture, history and talent around me, how was it that we were receiving charity instead of benefitting from our own talent and resources?

So I set out to change that. I knew that my project had to be truly business-oriented to overcome the complacency and dependency charity had created. I wanted to give our community the opportunity to feel the pride that comes with financing ourselves instead of waiting for handouts. In early 2005, fresh out of college in Addis Ababa, I founded my footwear company soleRebels to provide solid community-based jobs. Tapping into our community’s and the nation's rich artisan wealth and heritages, I started re-imagining what footwear could be.

People kept telling me that I must be crazy. Nothing world-class had ever emerged from our community. What did I know about shoes anyway? I was scared. I didn’t have anything backing me up if I failed. I was from this community and I needed to make this work as much as the people I was working with.

And so, I set up a workshop on my grandmother’s plot in the village of Zenabework with five other workers. Despite the humble surroundings, we had a grand idea and vision.

We aimed from day one to create, grow and control a world-class footwear brand that would craft creative and comfortable footwear while generating more jobs and growing prosperity for our workers; and all this from our own community by leveraging its artisan skills and the natural resources of the nation. We wanted to show people that it is possible to be local and at the same time globally successful. Our vision created an intoxicating sense of motivation and ambition among our team who stayed rack focused on creating something world class. I am proud to say that since 2005, we have been building strong, vibrant, creative communities by delivering world-class footwear.

But why is our story so important? I believe that the best road to true and lasting prosperity lies in communities that produce world class products that leverage local talents and resources. Ethiopia, and Africa in general, desperately needs more trade and not aid or charity. Only then, with sufficient financial resources evenly spread, can we begin to bask in the self-satisfaction that comes from financing the solutions to our own problems and not having them financed from outside.

So here we are. They laughed and we scaled our brand. Pair by pair we became the first ever direct to consumer brand to emerge from a developing nation – selling our brand via ecommerce before ecommerce was huge, and opening branded retail stores around the world.

So when they laugh, pull that knot out of your stomach and let it be your strength.
When they laugh, let that tingling sensation, that one that might tip you over into tears, turn into a torrent of power that courses through your mind and body and soul.
When they laugh, TURN away and DO THAT BIG THING they laughed about.

When people tell you to stop dreaming big, stop and remember that girl from a small neighborhood no one ever heard or cared about. Then smile, turn around and dream EVEN BIGGER than before. Then go and make that dream real.

* the traditional used tire sandal
** Ethiopian Blankets
*** Ethiopian Shawls


soleRebels www.solerebels.com | Garden of Coffee www.gardenofcoffee.com
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07Feb
Blog

Forget Perfect: Get Off Your Own Back and Own Your “Enoughness”

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If you’re like many women I meet, you’re probably pretty tough on yourself and often focus on what you haven’t done, or didn’t totally nail, versus all that you have done and did nail!

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By Margie Warrell - Bestselling Author | Founding CEO, Global Courage | Forbes Columnist

Many women can be exceptionally self-critical; often far harder on themselves than on anyone else. It’s why, despite our best intentions to be our ‘best selves’ we often feel we’ve fallen far short of them. If you relate in any way, you’re not alone.

In fact, you’re in the company of a legion of amazing women who often feel they don’t measure up on some parameter; that they are not enough in some way.

Not successful enough… organized enough…confident enough… slim enough… talented enough…experienced enough…thoughtful enough… capable enough.

Let’s face it, we live in a society that bombards us 24/7 with messages, urging us to live up to some idealised image of success, brilliance, beauty and got-it-all-togetherness. And while most women intellectually understand that no one can be at their best all the time, we are masters at using our fallen moments as a baton to beat up on ourselves. (If you’re a working mother, double it!)

It’s why the best self-help must always begin with self-compassion; accepting that no matter how hard we may try to be forever generous-spirited or brave-hearted or ‘insert-virtue-here’, we will inevitably fall short.

And that’s okay.

Research has found that it’s not self-esteem or optimism that helps people handle life’s challenges best, it’s self-compassion. It may sound counter intuitive, but when we are kind to ourselves, embracing our fallibility and accepting our flaws, we don’t lower the bar and retreat to our couch to binge on ice cream. In fact, just the opposite! We expand our capacity for action, connection and contribution and recover faster from life’s myriad of hardships and disappointments.

So if you often feel like you are not measuring up and have grown a little (or lot) jaded by the endless advice on how to be your ‘best self’, my best advice (yes, no irony lost there) is to cut yourself some slack, get off your own back and give yourself permission to be fabulous and fallible, innately worthy and wholly imperfect…. All at the same time.

My last six months have been fertile ground for practicing self-compassion and embracing my own fallibility. During that time, I’ve packed up my life in Australia – teenage children in tow – and replanted in Singapore. Let me assure you, I’ve had more than my usual share of fallen and decidedly ‘uncomposed’ moments where I’ve felt anything but my ‘best self.’

Yet, as challenging as some days have been (and there’s been many… just ask my husband whose career has brought us here), I’ve come to appreciate that our greatest growth and deepest fulfilment doesn’t flow from the parts of us that are flawless or the times when life is easy. Instead, it flows from the parts of us that we’ve been wrestling with our entire life and that dial up a notch or ten when plans go awry or life presses in on us (like moving country with teenagers). It is embracing our raw moments that makes us real, relatable and allows us to forge the most authentic connections with others.

Life has taught me that we are not so much human beings as ‘human becomings.’ It’s in the space of giving up on perfection that we open a window to a deeper dimension of living in which we can experience more moments of genuine joy, connection, gratitude and fulfilment.

Just imagine what possibilities could open up for you if, every day (or just as often as you can manage it), you stepped out into the world with the deep knowing that you don’t have to be more or less of anything in order to be ‘enough’ — to be ready enough, good enough, successful enough, smart enough, worthy enough.

Imagine, if instead of continually striving to be the woman you think you should be, you embraced the innate adequacy of the woman you already are?

As the most pressing problems in our world seem to grow larger, it’s vital that we stop talking ourselves down and waiting until we feel we are ready enough, deserving enough, brave enough before we dare to try. By being as kind to ourselves as we are to others we liberate ourselves of the perpetual need to impress or prove or please.

So back yourself more, doubt yourself less and get off your own back. Not only because the best self-help is self-compassion, but because when you embrace your humanity and choose to show up as the ‘flawsome’ human becoming that you are, you give others permission to do the same. What greater gift there is?

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21Dec
Business Updates

Bringing affordable healthcare to those most in need

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Melissa Menke participated in the 2013 edition of the Cartier Awards as a finalist for Sub-Saharan Africa. Her company Access Afya offers affordable access to professional healthcare clinics for people living in Kenyan slums.

Melissa Menke, the founder & CEO of Access Afya, readily admit that her company has gone a long way since participating in the Cartier Awards in 2013. Whereas the company was in pilot phase with only one working clinic when she first applied, it has since expanded to three clinics and will be opening two more clinics next year thanks in part to the funds raised during pre-seed and seed financing this year.

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Melissa Menke participated in the 2013 edition of the Cartier Awards as a finalist for Sub-Saharan Africa. Her company Access Afya offers affordable access to professional healthcare clinics for people living in Kenyan slums.

Melissa Menke, the founder & CEO of Access Afya, readily admit that her company has gone a long way since participating in the Cartier Awards in 2013. Whereas the company was in pilot phase with only one working clinic when she first applied, it has since expanded to three clinics and will be opening two more clinics next year thanks in part to the funds raised during pre-seed and seed financing this year. Melissa has also gained attention abroad for her social enterprise. Most notably, she was named a Global Health Fellow by Forbes and participated in the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy this year.

Melissa is also currently developing her field-based healthcare offering in addition to the micro-clinic model she presented at the Cartier Awards 3 years ago. While the micro-clinic model is impressive in that it brings affordable healthcare to poor neighborhoods where public hospitals and clinics are scarce, the field-base model takes this idea a step further by bringing affordable healthcare directly to children in schools and casual workers in factories. This is achieved with minimum equipment for maximum efficiency with just a nurse, a community health worker and a backpack. The field-based model is more convenient than conventional clinical care, and is able to find things earlier that need medical attention.

Since its inception, Access Afya has provided healthcare to over 10,000 people living in the Nairobi slums. Melissa takes pride in the fact that Access Afya “tracks outcomes, not just outputs”. By treating people with respect, making sure there is an individual follow-up and guaranteeing a sustainable and affordable system, Access Afya has gained a base of loyal customers. The company is now looking to run its model in other cities outside of Nairobi within two years’ time.

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08Nov
Business Updates

Scappatopo soon to hit the European market

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Carla Delfino is the Cartier Awards 2014 laureate for Europe. Carla hails from Italy and is the founder and CEO of Imperial Europe, a company that produces organic not-toxic repellents to control but not to kill pests.

ScappaTopo which means “Run Away Mouse!” in Italian, was Imperial Europe’s first product to hit the market in 2013. As the first multi-sensory mice repellent that is non-toxic to humans, household pets and wildlife, the product was an instant success in Italy.

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Carla Delfino is the Cartier Awards 2014 laureate for Europe. Carla hails from Italy and is the founder and CEO of Imperial Europe, a company that produces organic not-toxic repellents to control but not to kill pests.

ScappaTopo which means “Run Away Mouse!” in Italian, was Imperial Europe’s first product to hit the market in 2013. As the first multi-sensory mice repellent that is non-toxic to humans, household pets and wildlife, the product was an instant success in Italy. The sales revenue has been multiplied by 2 each year since its launch 3 years ago and has attracted quite a bit of media coverage. Indeed Carla Delfino is regularly invited to present her product and to talk about her experience as a woman entrepreneur on Italian TV networks such as RAI and La7. She was even able to secure additional funding from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme and from Latium Region innovative female entrepreneur fund.

However, every entrepreneur faces challenges and Carla is no exception to this rule. Despite the success of ScappaTopo in her home country, Carla has yet to launch the product in the EU as the Biocide Registration Regulation required by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is a complex, lengthy and costly process. Still, Carla is undeterred and has submitted all the necessary documents in the hopes of receiving the product authorization by the end of this year.
Carla has made great strides since winning the Cartier Awards in 2014. She broadened her distribution model to encompass a new e-commerce website which has been attracting an average of 50.000 visitors/month. She also set about improving her existing product ScappaTopo and developing a new line of products. A special diffuser was designed making it possible to spray the ScappaTopo aroma in larger areas such as food processing facilities or industrial premises. Carla plans to market this diffuser through a professional sales network directly to the end users (restaurants, bars, hotel, food processing industries, etc.). Carla is also in the process of designing a special non-toxic repellent called Wonder Ants to repel ants and cockroaches. She is currently trying to secure funding for the R&D of this product and plans to submit this project to the next H2020 Programme call.

Learn more about ScappaTopo here

Check out ScappaTopo’s Facebook page here

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04Nov
Business Updates

Diamond cab: transportation and leisure activities for wheelchair-bound elders

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Doris Leung is a 2013 Cartier Awards finalist for the Asia-Pacific region. She hails from Hong Kong and is the founder of Diamond Cab, a company that provides barrier-free taxis for wheelchair users.

Doris Leung first came up with the idea for Diamond Cab when her mother began to experience mobility problems. She soon realized that there were no wheelchair-accessible cabs available in her hometown Hong Kong. She decided it was time she take matters in her own hands and founded Diamond Cab in 2011.

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Doris Leung is a 2013 Cartier Awards finalist for the Asia-Pacific region. She hails from Hong Kong and is the founder of Diamond Cab, a company that provides barrier-free taxis for wheelchair users.

Doris Leung first came up with the idea for Diamond Cab when her mother began to experience mobility problems. She soon realized that there were no wheelchair-accessible cabs available in her hometown Hong Kong. She decided it was time she take matters in her own hands and founded Diamond Cab in 2011.

Since its launch 5 years ago, the company has expanded its Diamond Cab operations and now counts 7 cabs in activity. Doris has also diversified her range of services by starting Diamond Leisure in 2014, Diamond Leisure organizes barrier-free outings for wheelchair-bound elders using Diamond Cab. She now plans an average of 6 outings per month with activities ranging from bowling to buffet dinners. These activities have the advantage of being free for the wheelchair-bound elders staying at select nursing homes thanks to her strategic partnership with the Lee Hysan Foundation. Every week these leisure activities are organized by young Diamond Leisure Officers, creating cross generation inclusion and changing the traditional culture of senior care. Additionally, Doris is currently working on another offer called Charity Tour where she plans on replicating the Diamond Leisure model on a bigger scale and making it free for all wheelchair users and not just the elderly.

However, Doris must make sure that her fleet of cabs does not get too obsolete and is always on the lookout for opportunities to further expand her business. Indeed 4 of her 7 cabs are getting higher and higher mileage which is why she is seeking US$ 210,000 in funding to replace them. She is also looking for new sources of funding and new investors, sponsors and strategic partners in the travel business sector to further develop her Diamond Leisure activities and hire more staff members.

Learn more about Diamond Cab here

Check out Diamond Cab’s Facebook page here

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