Today’s blog post comes to us from Ubuntu co-founder Zane, who would like to share with us more about our Zazzle and Ubuntu collaboration! Social enterprise company Ubuntu is based in Mai Mahiu in Kenya’s Rift Valley. He serves as Executive Director, and Ubuntu is the largest employer in a town of 60,000 people. He’s also been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, and co-hosts a weekly podcast.
Just over a decade ago I purchased a one-way ticket to Kenya. I had no idea when I got on that plane just how much the people of Kenya would change my life and what that change would create for many others. I knew very little about Africa then and about the world of international development. I was just a kid from Texas recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a heart on fire wanting to know more about my purpose in life.
I am so grateful that I did jump on that plane, despite the well intentioned wisdom of so many who kept telling me to go to medical school first and then go help the people in Africa. I am thankful that I was too ignorant or stubborn or whatever it was to get on that plane. As a result I quickly realized it wasn’t about my helping the people of Africa, or about the people of Africa helping me, but about us learning how to empower one another to create something powerful for the world.
During that year of living in Kenya my understanding of the world broke wide open and for the first time I realized how intertwined our lives are to one another, even those we may never meet. My heart was shattered in such a beautiful way that I expanded and began to see how much I had to learn from my new friends and family in Kenya. It was here that I learned the power of Ubuntu: I am because we are.
Ubuntu is an African philosophy that speaks to the interrelated nature of the world. I realized this for the first time while living in Kenya and that word has, therefore, become the brand of our company.
Ubuntu’s core value is creating opportunities that empower local Kenyan communities. In 2007, I realized that the best way to create these empowering opportunities was through business. This was around the same time I first met Jeff and Bobby Beaver of Zazzle while at the Craig’s List Non-profit Bootcamp in San Mateo, CA.
Since that time the Ubuntu team has been re-working how we run a non-profit organization that has a growing earned revenue stream through the products we sell. We are currently operating as a hybrid model where half of our operations are covered through donations and the other half through product sales. As we’ve been hard at work refining this model so too has the Ubuntu friendship with team Zazzle.
It is through collaborations such as these that I think the meaning of Ubuntu is most powerfully observed and felt. Our makers in Kenya are now earning a reliable living wage and have something productive to do with their time each week as a meaningful community. Zazzle team members have traveled to Kenya and have witnessed first hand the impact their business partnership is creating in real and tangible ways. This has resulted in an inspired Zazzle leadership team that gets to share this message with their customer base who is looking for products with heart that they can now customize for their family and friends. And profits from these sales go back into Ubuntu’s other programs focused on special needs education so you can see how the loop is truly full circle impact.
From Africa to Silicon Valley, Ubuntu is at work creating innovative opportunities that are empowering communities on the other side of the world. I am because we are…how true this is for all of us. I couldn’t be more thankful for what this collection and this partnership is creating for the world. We’re all in this together!