My community story began at a founder-led company with a strong mission and an even stronger story.
Sseko Designs (pronounced say-ko) is a social enterprise that primarily employs young women in East Africa to create beautiful footwear, jewelry, and apparel. Its mission was simple: To generate income for high-potential women so they could continue on to university. Some of its artisans were able to resume their education with the savings they made from working with the brand after only one year.
I loved building a community of ambassadors (also known as Fellows) who would share the stories and sell the product because we had a strong foundation in storytelling. A huge part of the impact of our community on the brand came from noticing how Fellows responded.
Take it one step further and the reciprocal was also true: The individual stories of each Fellow actually began to influence and change the narrative of the brand itself.
Listening to each story
We released a new collection every spring and fall season. In the leadup to the launch, we equipped our community of Fellows with the language and steps to share the collection in their community by hosting trunk shows. At these trunk shows, they shared the story of the brand and the ins and outs of the product. They also shared something deeper: Why all of this mattered to them in the first place.
As a team, we got to hear stories from women sharing about how this was the first time they had experienced a supportive community of women. Others shared how they had always self-identified as shy and reserved, but in this role, they felt like they had finally found their voice.
Our own brand became more whole-hearted and well-rounded as we shared powerful stories of transformation, not only about our production team in Uganda but from our community of Fellows who were finding new purpose and belonging.
This is when the magic starts to happen.
A community-led approach to storytelling
The brand focuses less on the aspirational narrative it has crafted, protected, and packaged. Instead, it is more concerned about elevating and sharing the stories of the people whose lives are actually being transformed.
It’s a powerful shift and not every brand has the opportunity to do it.
In a time when everyone is doing their best to shout out their aspirational message as loudly as possible, I would rather devote my energy to creating the world's largest game of telephone. Each person quietly whispers their stories of transformation to the next person, who passes it on to the next, who then passes it on to the next.
The message spreads, the cycle continues, and we catch everything on fire.