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The Sew Powerful Values with Sue Kirby


As VP of Volunteers and CFO for Sew Powerful, Sue Kirby takes the core values of Sew Powerful to heart. Her dedication to Sew Powerful is tied directly to how this value driven organization works every day to improve the lives of those in need, especially for widows and orphans. Sue has traveled to Zambia and has seen the need and will share with you heartfelt stories that tie directly to those values.


We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.

Sew Powerful website Volunteers Page — sewpowerful


The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.


Jan Cancila, Host 00:04

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So let's get started.


Jan 00:19

Today we're speaking with Sue Kirby, who is on the senior leadership team of the Sew Powerful charity. Hello, Sue, how are you today?


Sue Kirby, Guest 00:29

I'm great, Jan, how are you doing?


Jan 00:31

Fine, fine, fine. We're gonna talk to you today about some of the foundational principles that surround Sew Powerful, how it keeps its focus on what it does, and some of the principles that really guide the organization. But before we get to that, I just want to talk to you a little bit about about Sue Kirby. So tell us what your role is at Sew Powerful.


Sue 00:58

Sure, I am currently the volunteer who is in charge of Finance. So I have the CFO title. And I also had the title for VP of volunteers and events, which is something that we started a couple years ago, when we decided we wanted to build a Regional Coordinator organization. So I have that. I have the western region, as an Area Manager for Regional Coordinators, and I still keep the state of Oregon. I'm the Regional Coordinator for the state of Oregon because I think it's really important to keep your feet on the ground and really know what people are going through as they try to engage and empower people for Sew Powerful.


Jan 01:50

Oh, well. And I mean, you're an integral part of the success of the organization, I have to say, but how did you even hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?



Well, about in 2017, I was retiring. I've had a long career in private industry, both in finance and HR. And I was looking for what God would want me to do now. So what's my next steps? And I love sewing. So one of my quilting websites mentioned a charity named Sew Powerful. And I thought, well, that looks interesting. I clicked on the website and what I read just resonated with, resonated with my heart. I just felt like this is what God would want me to do. So I called Jason and I talked to him. I said, I can sew purses, I love to sew and I'll sew purses but I think I can do more. And he said, Well, we're looking for volunteers. So we got together and chatted, he and Cinnamon and I and my husband, Doug, because I wanted to make sure that I had his support, and decided that I would try to build this volunteer organization out in the regions, and that's where I began. And we've been successful adding about 20 Regional Coordinators. And we now have the Eastern area and the Western area. And thank you, Jan, you are our Eastern Area Manager. And we have some international folks as well. It's just been a journey.


Jan 03:32

And can we, could we use a few more regional coordinators?


Sue 03:36

We could, I think, you know, our vision is that if we add a Regional Coordinator, at least one in every state or two or three in the big states, it would not be too many. We really, to be really effective in a region you have to get out and get people sewing, either through churches, quilt guilds, sewing leagues, there's lots of different ways, but you really have to get out there and put your hand to the task.


Jan 04:09

And I can think of two cities right now, Chicago and the Dallas-Fort Worth area that are huge metroplex areas without Regional Coordinators. So if you're listening, and you live in those areas, step up. We could use some more help. Okay, well, today we're going to delve into some depth here. And we're going to talk about the what, how, why, when and where of what really guides Sew Powerful, and we're going to start with the What. And Sue, that's the mission statement, right?


Sue 04:44

It is the mission statement. And I'd like to just read that because I think every word has carefully been thought through by Jason and Cinnamon, our co-founders. And I also think that many of the words and phrases are what draw our volunteers. So our mission: Sew Powerful combats extreme poverty by creating jobs that provide training and tools to facilitate the creation of purposeful products. These include purses, school uniforms, reusable hygiene pads, soap and farm fresh food, all designed to promote and enable the academic success of children throughout Zambia, while providing the dignity of work for adults. And for me, when I read that, and knew that we were working with a hand-up and not a handout, it was important. It's just like, yes, they will be successful because they're involved in the process.


Jan 05:53

Well, and those of us that make purses, it's good to know where our purse making fits into the whole bigger picture there.


Sue 06:03

Well, the purse making is important. We all, we also often call it the packaging, but let me tell you that it brings joy to those girls. So the purse itself is a beautiful gift beyond anything they've received, probably nicer than anything they currently own. And the note inside just lights up their heart, it lights up their faces. They know that somebody cares. When I was in Zambia, and it was great that I had the opportunity to go last year, I asked this one little girl, as we were sitting waiting for them to hand out the purses, I said, Why is everyone so excited? And she said, We need this. So really to break that cycle of poverty, they need to stay in school. To stay in school, they have to pass their seventh grade exam. To pass that exam, they have to go to school, and they can't go if they don't have any hygiene supplies. They stay home.


Jan 07:06

Yeah. Wow. So you've told us What, the mission statement. But the statement of faith really tells us Why we do it. And can you elaborate on that?


Sue 07:18

I can. And you can read the full statement of faith on our website. It's readily available. But what we want everyone to know is that we are a Christian-based organization. We believe that the reason we're doing this is because we want to serve God. And in serving God, we believe there's a really important verse in James that I'd just like to read. I did have it up on my phone, but it went quiet, so hang on. In James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


Sue 08:04

So these, many, many of these children are orphans, having lost one or both parents. And many of the parents that are still able to care for their child would be a widow or a widower, because they've lost their spouse. AIDS was devastating to Ngombe Compound. And there were a lot of older siblings who had to take on younger siblings because they lost both parents. So being able to help them is really important. There's another verse in Isaiah that I like which says, Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow. That's Isaiah 1:17. And I think when we look at our statement of faith, and our statement of faith talks about what we believe regarding God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these two verses talk about what we do, because we believe that.


Jan 09:08

Yeah, okay, so there's two more things we want to talk about before we circle back and really delve into the values. When does Sew Powerful operate? And when do you accept the donation of the purses and even financial donations?


Sue 09:27

We accept donations year-round. We ask purse makers to mail us their purses with a couple priority dates, one being May 1st, the second being November 1st. And the reason we do that is just really to simplify logistics. We pack those purses into boxes, and they go into a container that World Vision ships to Zambia, and that helps us because we do not have to pay shipping, by putting them in a container that's already headed there. But we can take purses year round. And we're excited this May deadline. Now we're going to have an unboxing party in June, and be able to count how we are towards our goal. We have a goal of 20,020 purses in 2020. That's a big goal. It's many more than we've ever collected. But we believe that with God's help, and the help of all the purse makers, we will do that. It takes about $5 a purse to fill it with the hygiene supplies. So we're thankful that many people are able to send the $5 a purse in financial donation. But for those who aren't, we still love to have you make purses and write cards because it's important to our girls.


Jan 10:48

And so what exactly does that $5 cover inside the purse?


Sue 10:53

Okay, the $5 covers the materials for both the hygiene pads and the soap. It covers the jobs for the seamstresses and the soap makers, so their monthly salaries, and it covers underwear. One of the things that we learned, well, two things we learned when we first started this was many of the girls didn't have underwear. So in order to use the feminine hygiene shield with the pads, they needed underwear. And the second thing we learned was that if we gave them just one [purse], typically, the caregiver would take the products, because they don't have any products to manage their monthly cycles either. So we actually do give each girl two purses, one to gift and one to keep. And I think that's special for them too, because they don't often give, get to give a gift of that quality and for that purpose.


Jan 11:55

Wow, that's so inspiring. And where does Sew Powerful operate?


Sue 12:02

We are in Lusaka, Zambia. And in a very poor urban slum called Ngombe Compound. And in Ngombe Compound, there's about 150,000 people. And many of the aid organizations, World Vision included, do not work in the urban slums. They work in the countryside, which of course, is desperate, as well. But in Ngombe, we are one of the only charities that actually works in that urban slum. So we feel that's where God called us and we're going to try and make a difference there.


Jan 12:42

And what about purse makers? Where do they live?


Sue 12:46

Purse makers, praise God, they live all over the world.


Jan 12:49



Sue 12:50

We get purses from the UK, Canada, Brazil, the US, Australia. It's so exciting. We have a Regional Coordinator in Switzerland. We've had one in Ireland in the past, but she had to had to resign. So, just all over the world. It's very exciting.


Jan 13:11

Wow, wow, this is great. Okay, so why don't we take a quick break and when we come back, let's delve into the values, because the values tell us how this whole program is going to work. Okay?


Sue 13:23



Jan 13:24

Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller (4.9 out of five stars, by the way) is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty, through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget when you place your order, if you use and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.


Jan 14:32

Welcome back. We're talking with Sue Kirby. And we've been talking about the mission statement, the statement of faith and how Sew Powerful is organized. But right now we're going to delve into the values, and the values tell us how Sew Powerful accomplishes all this. And Sue, why don't you give us give us a rundown of what those values are.


Sue 14:55

Okay, first, can I tell you a little bit about my belief around value driven organizations?


Jan 15:02

Absolutely, absolutely.


Sue 15:04

Okay. So I had, like I said, a long career in private industry and actually working for our city government. And in both cases, I was involved in developing a Values document. And what I saw was that it helped people really understand how to make decisions. So when you're trying to live in the culture and make decisions that fit in the culture, the values can guide you. If you're trying to decide, do I fit in this culture? Do I want to work here? You can look at the values and say, Oh, I have common values with this group of people. And everything might not be a 100% match, but it gives you that guide so that you don't move into situations that you just can't figure out why it's not working for you. So I think values are really important in an organization. And I feel like Sew Powerful can use these as we talk to volunteers,. Do you want to come along and be part of our journey? And they'll say, Well, you know, I don't know, tell me about you. Then we can talk about these are the things we value, these are the things we want to bring to the organization and to the team.


Jan 16:27

Well, and I think you've shared with me before that you had two very different experiences in past organizations, based on how the leadership treated the values, is that true?


Sue 16:39

That is true. In my first experience, our senior leadership team was always talking about the values. But more importantly, they were living the values. And that really made a difference, because people in the organization then knew. They knew that it was important to have respect one for another. They knew that, you know, in meetings were supposed to be actively listening, not just trying to influence our own opinion. So I think that's really important, because as a leader, you need to talk about it, but you need to live it.


Jan 17:19



Sue 17:19

In the second organization I worked in, it was not quite so clear. People felt like we don't, we don't need it written on a paper, we know what our values are. But what I saw in that organization was, they might have known but they certainly weren't living them. And so everybody had a different idea of what something meant. And that can easily happen, you know. You say, we should respect one another. Some people think that means you don't argue. Other people think you argue until you get to consensus. And if you do that loudly, that's okay. And, you know, so I think until you really work through and define what those values mean to you in this situation, you can get a lot of disparate actions. And I think if you have the values and you've talked to them, and you've defined them, you get much more congruency in your organization.


Jan 18:22

And so, Sew Powerful does have a very comprehensive list of values. You want to start at the top and walk us through those?


Sue 18:31

Oh, I'd be glad to. Sure. So the first one, and again, we talked about our statement of faith and how fundamental it is to our organization. But the first one is that We Walk By Faith. And we further define that by saying that we hope that faith is the hope in things not yet seen, carrying the love of Christ as we serve the community with love for our neighbor. So again, we're telling you what our faith is and how we're going to walk it out. And that's founded on Christian principles.


Sue 19:12

The next one is, We Create. And, again, what do we create? Well, we want to create purposeful products. We don't want to create things that have no value. So we use those purposeful products (that's a tongue twister) to eradicate poverty, as we make a better physical, social, educational and spiritual environment. So you can see in our purses, we put the hygiene products for the girls, we put the soap, we put the necessary underwear, and then we train them how to use it. But it's not just to take care of their monthly cycles. The purpose of all of that is to keep them school, because if we can keep them in school, we can help eradicate poverty. And by the local jobs we create, we can help eradicate poverty. So again, we create because, you know, as purse maker is we love to be creative. It's so much fun to use our stash and to do all these beautiful purses you'll see on our website, but they have a purpose. And we want to keep that purpose in mind.


Sue 20:28

The next one: We Weave. What do we weave? Well, we weave together our team members. And we want to be working in harmony to reach our shared goals with like-minded friends. We are better together. And we often say We Are Sew Powerful Together. What's more fun? Let's have fun together as team members. Let's encourage each other, let's appreciate each other, let's put people in where they can serve in a way that uses the gifts God gave them. So weaving that together, I think is exciting. We empower.


Jan 21:07

And if I can interject...Yeah.


Sue 21:11

So we empower individuals to unlock their skills and abilities and improve their community. This is really what we're doing in Zambia. We're empowering the moms that work in our sewing Co Op, and our soap Co Op to keep their kids in school, or the older siblings. We actually have one of our seamstresses who's supporting three of her younger siblings, to keep them in school. So, you know, we're just empowering them to do that. And also, we're giving them a skill. When we talk to them, they often talk about the fact that sewing is something that they now have if they need to take it somewhere else. And that's important.


Sue 21:56

We're Focused. So we focus on dedicating our service to see improvement in the lives of people and communities we work with, before we expand to new places. So we're fairly small. But from working with one school, we're now working with 25 schools, distributing these hygiene products. Our farm has come out of some of that growth. We are now able to bring some healthy food to the school that we work with, which is important. So I think that by being focused, yes, Needs Care School, I think when Jason first saw it, was meeting in a building that had no windows and no doors. It was a half-finished church. And it had maybe 300 or 400 students. We were able to start the sewing Co Op. The first thing they did was make school uniforms. All of a sudden, we had 1500 students, because people had pride in the fact that they could belong to this school. And then we started doing the hygiene products for our school. Now we do it for 25 schools. So you know, I think just staying focused has been really important in our growth. And we hope to expand beyond, but not until we can do it well.


Sue 23:18

And finally, We Stretch Our Resources by being frugal. We really want to make sure that the money people give us goes to Zambia. So we have no salaries in the US. We're all volunteers. We have no office in the US. That is, office space is donated to us by another business. And we just try with every dollar to get it to Zambia. And our overhead rate has been very low the last few years, less than 5%. So that's just something we want to continue to do. And I'll tell you, Jan, it's a little challenging to have everything be volunteer. When you've been in business, and you're used to hiring somebody to do this or hiring them to do that, buying a tool you need. But it helps us be creative. We are more creative because we've put these boundaries on ourselves. And I think it is in line with what God would have us do as an organization.


Jan 24:31

And if I could just sort of add something here. I'm retired as are you and several of our other volunteers are retired. It seems like you know, we have a little bit more time to devote to this. Never did I imagine that at my age, I would be making such great and fast friends as I've been able to make in the years I've been associated with Sew Powerful. And most of these new friends don't live nearby; we're not running to Starbucks and having a cup of coffee together, but we're doing something so much more meaningful. And distance really hasn't played, hasn't been a barrier. And I'm just wondering if you find that to be the case as well.


Sue 25:19

I do find that to be the case. And I think it's really interesting, as you say, because in our retirement to see this happening, because I believe the young kids, the "screeners," they just expect this. You know, they expect that they can have friends anywhere, and they are just, you know, virtually doing this or that or something else. But to really be able to move into it, and have that experience, it's very satisfying to me.


Jan 25:49

Right. And so sort of the values you associate with people that have, that share your values, and you support and prop each other up with the values and re-solidify them in that way. So, well.


Sue 25:50

And we all have the same mission. I mean, we are dedicated to seeing those girls stay in school. And when you have that common goal, it certainly strengthens those bonds of friendship.


Jan 26:18

It does, it absolutely does. So let's just recap here, what we've talked about here. We've, we've talked about our mission statement as What it is that we do, and it's all defined right there. And we talk about Why we do it, and that's our statement of faith, which you've summarized very nicely, but like you said, the details are on the website. We talked about When we do all of this volunteer work, which is all the time, anytime. And Where we do it, volunteers from all over the world do it to benefit those living in extreme poverty and Zambia


Sue 26:57

Right. And I would just add there that, you know, if you're listening to this podcast, and you have a skill that you think could help in our mission, please contact us. We could use more volunteers, we could use more Regional Coordinators, we could use more media director, we could use, you know, just so many different skills that people may have honed over their years of experience or even in their education and now want to put to use in a volunteer way. Please contact them.


Jan 27:33

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Sue, it's been a delight to talk with you and to really delve into the inner workings of what really makes Sew Powerful tick. And every time I think about it, I'm more proud that I'm able to volunteer for such a fantastic organization. So, thank you for your time today.


Sue 27:57

Well, you're welcome, Jan, and I hope we'll be speaking again soon.


Jan 28:02

All right.


Jan 28:03

If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.


Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at