A recent blog post on the Sew Powerful website features a young woman named Frienda who recently graduated from being a trainee to a junior seamstress in the sewing co-op in the Ngombe compound in Lusaka, Zambia. We wanted to delve deeper into the impact local hiring has on a community, especially when extreme poverty affects more than half the population. Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles explains how the jobs we provide, are life-changing for an employee, their family and an ever-growing circle in the community. Jason expands on the critical role donors play in ensuring children have an aspiration nurtured by working role models in their own homes.
Local Hiring for Local Impact with Jason Miles
IN THIS EPISODE
Zambia, sewing for charity, purse program, vocational training, community impact, entrepreneur, Atelier Angels, donors, local hiring, sewing co-operative, co-op, Ngombe, Lusaka, Livingstone, Acts 8, Eph 2:30
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.
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
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.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
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. Good morning. This is our third episode in the 'Jesus and the Poor' series Podcast. I'm very excited to delve deeper into this concept. And you know, there was even recently a blog post about local hiring for local impact. And, Jason, I want to ask you some questions about this. Are you ready?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:41
Yeah, this is gonna be a fun conversation. I think I'm really looking forward to it. So how are you?
I'm good. I'm good. So in this blog post, there was a video and it featured a new junior seamstress named Frienda. And number one, I love her name, Frienda.
Oh, no, that's great.
Yeah. Talk about the video and what is Frienda's situation? What was she doing before she came to us?
Yeah, well, it's just a heartwarming story. We got to meet her a couple years ago when we visited the program with a donor group. And she is just a wonderful, vibrant, young person. And so it was fun when we received a video from our team in Zambia that she was, you know, featured and got to tell her story. So if you haven't seen the video, it's her telling her story, the impact of the employment work and the sewing training that she's received. And it's a wonderful acknowledgement and thank you, I guess, to the donors, that her life was transformed. Before she was part of the program, she didn't have anything going on. She had two kids; she was just in the community. It is very, very common situation where young ladies in school, usually at seventh grade, and they're just in the community. And that leads to all kinds of, you know, life outcomes, early marriage, or no marriage, but early, you know, childbearing. And so they're just very, very common. And so there she was, and we have people who have heard and seen about the sewing cooperative and are just eager to get into it. And so, whenever we have an open enrollment, there's, there's no shortage of people saying, Please, you know, let me into this program. So she was one of the people who came in as a trainee, and was a part of the six month training process and then joined us as a junior seamstress. And in the video, feel free to watch it. It's on the website. Now, she talks about how the job totally transformed her life as in allowing her to care literally financially for her 11 people in her household, her two kids and her extended family. That's how many households in Ngombe compound are constructed. They include nieces and nephews. Many times, there will be the parents who have gone, and you know, left and are now residing in the village far far away, or they have the parents who have passed away. Their cousins or their sister or brother, or whoever, adopts their children. So, you end up with these composite households that are not small. And frequently, there's just no breadwinner. And there there is no one in that household who has gainful employment. And so Frienda tells her story and the impact for feeding the family, having the kids in school being able to provide. The first thing that happens in that context, if there is no employment is that kids won't go to school. And so, it just destroys the kind of long term prospect. So anyway, so that's Frienda's story and it just it's very heartwarming video. I think it caught your attention and certainly caught ours as well. So.
Well, it sounds like the job is given not only Frienda, but her whole family some stability they didn't have before.
So before Frienda joined us, was her situation fairly typical for women living in poverty in Zambia?
Well, it's certainly common to encounter ladies in their late teens or early 20s, who have several kids, frequently not married and no employment prospect, no educational prospect. So, and that was one of the neat things about her story was she's going back to school to finish first primary school just through seventh and then through 12th grade. She's on that journey now. And she's really proud of it. And the video was also interesting because it shares her story in English, which she was not comfortable speaking in few years ago. So, it's very fun. And yeah, I would say that there you know, certainly huge number of moms that are there in that same situation. Yeah.
So, the title of this podcast is Local Hiring for Local Impact.
Explain what that means. What is the philosophy behind that?
Yeah, well we talked about theory of change last time and about kind of our approach to how to be helpful in the situation we find ourselves in Ngombe Compound with and, and the first work we started to do was to help the moms, you know, raise money for the school that was their dream and part of that was, you know, what could they make and what could they sell? And would they have some personal benefit from it, it's it's turned into over a decade later is our emphasis on local hiring for in good jobs created for impact locally; impact where the result of the work makes a difference in the community. And so school uniforms was our first program; we ran that for four years. And now you know, reusable hygiene pads and soap and on and on. So.
Yeah, and you know, we see photos from the children in the uniforms and it's just so gratifying to know that they were made by the women in the sewing co-op. So that's fantastic. When Sew Powerful created the setup in 2010, you called it a Sewing Co-op. Why that approach?
So we call it a Sewing Co-op, because a lot of Western agencies do sewing training in Africa. And it's been done many times in Zambia. And their thesis behind their work is they'll gather together a group of ladies, and they'll give them Singer treadle machines, and they'll do like a six-month or like a nine-month training program. And the thinking behind those programs is that they're training those ladies to be entrepreneurs; that they're just going to then at some point, say, see you later, you know, go forth and sew in Jesus' name and make yourself a good life out of it. And that operating thesis is, in our view, flawed, because if you just go talk to 100 people anywhere in the world, in America or Zambia, anywhere, very few of them want to be entrepreneurs. Who would want to sign up to be an entrepreneur? A masochist? I don't know. So that's just not the common thing. What most people want is a good job. And so, we wanted to orient the whole program towards we're training people so they can work with us in community for the long term. And we call it a Co-op because they share the space, the machines are gifted by donors. And it's not an entrepreneurial training ground where we're spinning off these entrepreneurs, who then would, I don't even know what, all go compete against each other, you know, within 150 yards of where they live? So, so this is very different than what other you know, charities do. And that's why we call it a sewing cooperative. And it sounds a little communal, I guess you could say, and we want it to sound different and to be different. Because the thinking behind it is just a different twist. And so, the team there needs to know that it's different, because they've been oriented to those entrepreneurial 'learn to sew and go go make a business' type models. And so there you go. So that's sort of the thinking behind it, and why it's to some degree different than the know what else is out there.
Yeah. You know, that's interesting, because I do see that from other organizations where they, you know, go forth and start your business. And here's a here's a $10 loan. And...
Yeah, and what what I like to say is the people with no disrespect at all, but Cinnamon and I have been kitchen table entrepreneurs since 2007; started on eBay with the result of her sewing and design work. And the people who are out in Africa, proposing those programs have never been in a sewing entrepreneurial venture, I don't think. I think they're good-hearted charity workers who think that the idea of training for like, you know, a vocational skill, and then the assumption you could be an entrepreneur, makes sense. But it's a huge, huge burden. I mean, to say to somebody be an entrepreneur, I don't care where you're if you're in Silicon Valley, or if you're in, you know, Houston or New York, to say to somebody go be an entrepreneur after nine months of training is like, what in the world? That's hard. We don't want to make this hard.
It's a huge blessing, you know, make it easy for him. So.
Yeah, no, I've been there. It's a 24/7 obligation. And you're spending a lot of time not even making your product. So yeah, exactly. It's huge.
So let's pivot a little bit. Back in the spring of 2021, in our Spring Summit, you talked about the spectrums of poverty. And if I remember, right, if I was paying attention, I think there were nine different ones that you shared. How does the spectrums of poverty tie into this approach we have to local hiring?
Yeah, yeah. It's a great question. I think we're going to have to do a whole podcast on the spectrums of poverty conversation. But the thinking here is pretty straightforward. And that's just that poverty is not just financial. And everyone knows that. But if you really think about, like, what are we trying to do and how we're trying to be helpful. There's relational poverty, there's educational poverty, in physical environment poverty, and on and on. And so, when you see somebody like, Frienda, part of the story is that they were in an educational deficit. And were in a context in which they were really challenged because of the family relational context. And so, you know, how do you come alongside someone like that? And our sewing cooperative is designed to be a beautiful, physical facility. And it's designed to build trust and camaraderie. The people in our team know that they're showing up for something that is healthy relationally; the environment is healthy and productive. They know the mission. They know, they're not going to be taken advantage of. These elements that I'm describing these sort of softer skills, kind of relational job issues, are many, many reasons why, in some context, poverty exists so extremely, is because people have been ripped off, cheated, stolen from, used, abused, all of the elements that go into the negative use of people. Communities that are challenged are rife with those problems. It's not just financial. And so that's, that's the idea here is that the environment needs to be a wonderful place to work. And the relationships need to be warm and supportive. And the deal needs to be a good deal, financially. Sure. But there needs to be other elements that come alongside that make it way more than just money. And that's what we're trying to do with our program locations.
Well, you know, one of the things that I think is so important about this is these women become role models in their community. Young girls see these women supporting their family in a way that maybe they hadn't seen an example of before, you know. And I think of my childhood, and I don't know, adults always seemed to be asking me, what do you want to do when you grow up? And so, I mean, I said something from an example that I had seen, you know, what, teacher, a nurse, you know, whatever. But now, now, the young girls in school have an idea of something else that they can do; what their future could look like.
In that context, that you, when you talk to the girls, they all have a dream in their heart. And it's, you know, what's challenging or frustrating, or, I guess you could say heartbreaking, is that when you talk to them, you know, when they're fourth grade, fifth grade, they're just so optimistic. I'm going to be an airplane pilot, or I'm going to be, I'm going to be an astronaut. And you know, we've all been in that frame of mind when we're kids. What are we going to do? I wanted to be a professional football player. And then I grew up and I was five, seven, and that just wasn't gonna happen. But sad in a way is, by the time that kids in those communities have gone through 6th, 7th grade and realize they're not going to get to go to high school, their dreams quickly unwind. And they find themselves settling into life in a community that has no employment opportunities; no dream fulfilling mechanisms. And for all of us, we know school is that on-ramp to a bigger opportunity. And so it is frustrating, but equipping students with academic success is central to our thesis outcome of the local hiring that we do there. And that's why we're so passionate about it, because it does allow kids to say, you know, I do want to be a teacher or a doctor and, and I actually can get into secondary school now. And for the girls in the purse program, it's because they, you know, they can attend school all month, even while they're on their period. Because Frienda helped them. And that's the local impact, you know. It chokes you up when you think about it. Frienda is the hero of our story. We're not the heroes of the story in this one. Frienda is the hero of the story. And it just so gratifying to see her make a difference in her community with the result of her work. Yeah.
Well, how can donors to Sew Powerful support the program and make sure that we do have local hiring for local impact?
Yeah, we're honored to be able to continue to grow to the program. It's our dream to continue to grow the program. We have the facility in Lusaka. Now that was completed last year, it's a beaut, if you haven't seen the videos, you know, on our website, beautiful facility, Vocational Training Center. And it's a wonderful environment. We have room there to have more trainees and to grow the team. We think we could grow the team there by you know, about 20 people and not have any kind of space concern. And we also have a facility in Livingston that is rented. It's not our own property, but we can grow the team there by 10 people. And then we dream of expanding to other locations. There's another part of Zambia called the Copperbelt area, and we want to have an an office there and grow the team. And you know, it's amazing is literally, in the last I'm not exaggerating, in the last seven days, I got contacted by two different agencies, one in Kenya and one in the Congo, both asking how we can work with them in their countries. And that happens very frequently. So, the system we're growing is dependent on a few things. First of all, of course, financial giving is central to it. So, giving gifts to help us is a wonderful blessing that helps us get the systems in place and the stipends for the trainees and that kind of thing. And then we also, you know, want to expand the purses that we received. The number of purses for the Sew Powerful purse program is sort of this balancing act. How many purses do we have? How many team members do we have in Zambia? And we kind of have to have a matchy-matchy kind of equivalent, where we have enough team members in Zambia to make the reusable pads and run the program to match the number purses that we received. So we can't get too many purses, and I have enough money for that local hiring. And we can't get too much money for local hiring without enough purses. So we're in it together with seamstresses around the world, making purses. And so there you go. So those are, you know, a couple ways. And of course, prayer, I would, I would say is the third thing, and maybe that should have been the first. But many people have a heart for Africa, heart for serving, they've maybe been to the mission field or wanting to go some point in their life. And they realize this is this is an opportunity to be personally directly involved. And so making purses and then praying for the team members, like Frienda, but also praying for the beneficiaries, the children in the program who will be blessed by the work would be a huge gift to us as well.
Well, first of all, I want to compliment you for using air quotes, sewing term matchy-matchy.
Oh, that's a term, right?
Yeah, we talk about that. But you know, as individuals, we always say, I want to change the world. And, you know, when you're a volunteer for Sew Powerful, you sort of feel like, maybe that's possible. Can you talk about that feeling? And what as we as individuals can do? How can we change the world?
Yeah, yeah. Well, one of the beautiful parts of the Sew Powerful purse program is this sense and realization that changing the world doesn't mean you have to go to, you know, Zambia. You can change the world right, in your you know, sewing room or your you know, at your sewing machine, by making a beautiful gift for the girl. So, you know, people are there; our team members are there; you don't need to go there. You really don't. I know we want to all go there, we want to see it and experience it. But we don't need to be there. So, the purse program allows for us to, to not have to do that. And a lot of people can't anyway. And so, you know, there's there's that element of it. But I think there's also many people who have what you might just call it a personal calling, or some sense of the leading of the Lord in their life that they're supposed to be helping in ministry some some way. And we're so excited that for those who are sewing purses, this is an expression of ministry. And it is it is Biblical, man. I mean, Acts, chapter eight, where Stephen and the deacons are serving the community. This is a beautiful, beautiful expression of service and ministry. And I just, I'm always honored and encouraged when I hear people express their enthusiasm and passion for it. And they kind of get it that they are not just, you know, an American donor that's giving money. They are a minister. They are a part; they are a team member. We're not making that stuff up. Just you know, that's we really believe that. We're in this together. And it's central to the idea of our organization that we literally cannot do this. Without team members around the world rallying together and serving Christ in a very challenging place. And we're in it together. We always say we're together; we are so powerful. And that's what we mean by that.
So Jason, Ephesians 2:10, For we are God's handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared us in advance to do. That really speaks to me, but how do we incorporate that into the Sew Powerful mission? And and just what we're all about?
Well, yeah, I guess I would just go right back to that local hiring for local impact. We believe we have a model. It's a small model. I mean, we have 63 people, you know, working on the ground there, but it's a small example. We do believe this philosophy has a lot of value, which is have people work locally, to make a difference in their community locally. And I guess to say that the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 had it hardwired into the Bible 1000s of years ago is how does it get any more clear than that? We're God's handiwork created in Christ to do good works. As believers who were, I guess you could say financially blessed and and we're so lucky, to be honest, to live in America. You know, Warren Buffett says he won the genetic lottery by being born in America and I agree with that. We have in my estimation, a duty or responsibility, a blessing in our life, a calling, to help Frienda and the other team members. I can name them, I just go through the list and we have an obligation; I think to say how do we come alongside Frienda and help her do the good work in her community? And that's the goal of local hiring for local impact. It's the goal of what we're trying to do with Sew Powerful and and I believe we're getting there. And our dream is to add another 30 trainees in the near term. We'll see whether we can get there or not. It's dependent on donor giving to be completely candid. But we're growing and we want to have more people like Frienda added to the program and her life, those those ladies' lives will be changed, but also the community will be changed because of the local impact that they can make together.
Well, you know, what, if I just quickly do the math, Frienda is impacting 11 other people. So, you talk about the 68 staff members, I mean, that easily could be 700 people in the community. And you know, every person tells another person and is an example. And so, it just grows like that. If somebody is inclined to donate after they've they've heard this or they've been wanting to do it, how can people donate to Sew Powerful?
Yep, right on our website, sewpowerful.org, there's a Donate button in the top menu right in the middle. And we can give a gift of any amount; you can give it one time or recurring. And we have an Atelier Angels program, which is our monthly recurring donor support program where you join the Atelier Angels. That's a sewing term that means 'workshop' in French. So, if you want to be a workshop Angel, and give a monthly recurring gift, you can do that. So, I would challenge people to do it. Help us grow the program. If we get some large gifts will grow really fast. If we get a lot of small gifts, we'll keep adding as we can, new people to the program. And we'll just continue to see God's blessing in the lives of people like Frienda. So, I just want to thank everybody who has given to get us where we're at and are continuing to give faithfully, it's just an incredible honor to be able to partner together and to be a steward of the gifts. And I'll just say as a final plug, we have zero staff in the US. If you look at our 990, you won't see any director salaries or anything like that in the United States. All of the funding we receive, to the best of our ability, goes right to build a team in Zambia. Our overhead rate in 2020 was 2.9%. This year 2021, I think mathematically, I'm pretty sure it's going to be lower than 2.9%.
And so, we just are passionate about being frugal and you're a volunteer; I'm a volunteer; we ask people in the US and abroad to be volunteers, so that we can really focus all of the giving to building that team locally there in Zambia for local impact.
Well, and I just want to give a plug for a new easy way to donate called Donate to Honor a Loved One. And we're recording this in November so with the Christmas holiday coming up. Gift giving all over TV, they're saying, you know, order your gifts, early supply chain issues. If you go to the Sew Powerful website, you don't have to worry about that. You can give a gift in honor of your loved one for Christmas and by return email will give you a lovely Christmas card that you can print and give to that person, so.
You can do that tonight before Christmas. There you go.
Yes, yes. Last, last-minute procrastinators.
We also have some really cute t-shirts too. So, you can find that under the merch section under the Donate button.
Yeah. And hoodies too. T-shirts and hoodies.
There you go. There you go.
So yeah, yeah, some brand-new designs. So, if you haven't, if you haven't looked for a while you need to check it out.
We've laid out all the options here.
Yes. Yes. So anyway, well Jason, thank you so much for your time. It was an honor to talk about this with you. And next week, we are going to be talking about God's heart for orphans and widows. And this is going to be a really touching episode, and I'm very anxious to talk to you about it. So, thank you so much. Have a great day. Thank you. All right, bye bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. 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.
ABOUT THE HOST
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 Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.