Empowering People Works Better Than Giving Aid

I’ve long questioned the traditional approach to development where donors and governments invest in basic health, education and access to food in developing countries, with the hope that the beneficiaries will eventually become self-sufficient.

While all assistance is to be acknowledged and appreciated, we need to rethink the ways in which we help others. We must revisit our definition of development.

If we support people in a more sustainable way – by increasing access to economic opportunities – they can afford to pay for those same basic goods and services that governments and donors sometimes struggle to provide. We need to give from the perspective of empowering the recipient rather than making them dependent. When we invest in jobs and economic opportunity, beneficiaries will lift themselves out of poverty. This approach fosters the spirit of enterprise and decent work, and will preserve dignity and reinforce self-reliance. It also enhances social stability because minds are constructively engaged.

Traditional development models are often top-down and non-inclusive at the grassroots level. Entrepreneurship is a bottom-up approach to spurring economic growth and progress. It focuses on empowering individuals to develop and implement nuanced solutions to social and economic problems.

This is the core philosophy behind my new social enterprise Tallulah. 

Tallulah is a design initiative I founded to promote sustainability, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in marginalized African communities by celebrating their unique talent. 

Each collection begins with an aesthetic direction I create before the artisans are then commissioned to create the necessary fabrics and materials. But crucially, Tallulah isn’t sourcing products from the artisans; we are sourcing skills and co-developing products with them that fit into our seasonal vision. 

So far,  the real reward in my design initiative has come from seeing the impact Tallulah has had on the communities it works. Over the past two years, my project has supported over 500 people from marginalized societies. As income grows for some of the world's poorest people, so does the positive impact on children and communities.  

Six facts for two years of work:

  • So far 558 artisans have worked on the project from 6 different African communities. 76% of which are women.

  • All of artisans said the income they earned was more than they would have earned otherwise. Salaries have increased by 2-10 times.

  • 86% of the artisans involved received training during production, offering them international-standard skills. 88% can transfer the skills they learned to others.

  • All of the artisans were able to put food on their table and 76% saved from the income received, enabling them to plan for their future. 30% invested their income.

  • More than 400 children were enabled to go to school as a result of the project.

  • We have employed 100 men and women with disabilities and have worked to help them become more independent, self-sufficient, and recognized as equals within society. People with physical challenges in Africa are one of the most marginalized segments of society in the world, and this project is helping not only to create jobs but also to dispel stereotypes. 

It's very rare for people from disadvantaged communities in Africa to get good employment that also connects them to the lucrative international markets. In addition, they suffer from social labels. For [these men and women] the real joy of the project is based on the dignity they find in working.