From the education and care of vulnerable children, to the nurturing of adult skills that provide employment opportunities and the support for inspirational home-grown art and artists — the Soul of Africa social enterprise movement was born in 2003, “Doing Good, One Step at a Time.” They generate money to fund trade-meets-aid projects by the manufacturing shoes in Africa and selling them on retail sites online in the UK and the US.
Lance Clark is a sixth generation shoe maker and a scion of the famous Clarks family shoe company. In 2003, he was invited to Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa to advise on its shoe industry, where the employment rate was around 50 percent and many children have been orphaned due to AIDs. While there he had a light bulb moment that turned into a personal mission: Why not use the manufacture of shoes to create a social enterprise, where trade meets aid to empower African citizens?
“The children from the ramshackle, tattered shed — which was their home — came rushing out to meet us. I picked up a little boy who was crying. He then laughed. When it was time to leave, he cried and I cried. That encounter spurned the idea to give the people the means, the ambition and the pride to help themselves rather than depend on foreign aid, much of which by funding corruption and the development of a dependency culture, has done more harm than good in Africa,” Clark said.
The Clarks shoe company is a global brand from Somerset, UK that began making sheepskin slippers almost 200 years ago in 1825. Their slogan, “responsible business is good business,” informs their approach to Soul of Africa. Each pair of their shoes sold by Clarks, in its UK and US stores, generates a further £3 (around $3.75) to the movement.
By harnessing the talents of university design students and graduates, inspired by the terrain and styles of Africa and using African materials (as much as possible), Soul of Africa now makes shoes in South Africa, Tunisia and Ethiopia. More than 17,000 children and their families have been supported by the enterprise in more than 100 projects. The Soul of Africa factories have a strict code of conduct, and over $30,000 worth of wages was paid out in 2015.
In the Molweni Valley, Natal, Soul of Africa supports four pre-schools. From building renovation and sanitation installation to the provision of creche furniture, equipment, and of course, lots of toys. From 2007 to 2012 they supported the running of food banks and funding provides carers to look after the children. Soul of Africa also collaborates with the social outreach program Philangethemba, which means “living through hope.”
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, the Brave Hearts Foundation is an inspirational organization that creates safety, security and opportunity for vulnerable children who are thus kept from living on the streets. Soul of Africa supports the charity, providing training for guardians, as well as food and access to education. Women have been helped to set up small businesses, providing an essential income for their families.
Since 2015, the Destino Dance company, led by Junaid Jemal Sendi and Addisu Demissie, has been inspiring young people to realize their dancing dreams, and they are supported by Soul of Africa. The pair was working shining shoes and selling tissues on the streets of Addis Ababa before going on to gain international acclaim as contemporary dancers. They still work back in their home city — though now by living their dreams, they can provide disadvantaged kids such as orphans, street children and young offenders with free dance training and opportunities.
Continuing the family tradition, Vivobarefoot is the world’s first “barefoot” footwear company set up by Lance Clark’s son, Galahad Clark. In collaboration with Soul of Africa, they helped bring San-dals, based on the traditional footwear of the San-Bushemen Tribe of the Kalahari desert to a global audience. Over £90,000 was raised via Kickstarter in order to continue the venture, which raises crucial money for Soul of Africa projects.