We know when women come together, we get ish done. We find like minds, coordinate, then collaborate, founding solidarity groups to create the change we want to see. I was introduced to one such collective. Soul and Story was created by Tammy Freeman, a social entrepreneur driven by a desire to do good - better than good.
Soul and Story is a social enterprise offering curated finds made by women of Africa and the African Diaspora. These goods are created by women who are fellow activists and artisans from around the world with which the dollars they earn, they teach, train and seek to expand their businesses to act as benefactors to their community.
Tammy details the mission of Soul and Story and what residents of wealthier nations can do to take the Buy Black Movement world-wide.
MRTV: How do you become an activist and what steps did you take to become a social entrepreneur?
TF: It's interesting because up until recently, I never categorized myself as an activist. I thought of activists as those people who bravely take to the streets and organize protest to demand justice. It was only until the last few months that I realized I am very much an activist, I just organize, protest and advocate in a different way...through social entrepreneurship.
I've been a social entrepreneur before I even knew of the term "social entrepreneur". Funny thing is, growing up the prevailing thought was that you can either go out and "do good" but make no money in the nonprofit world or make good money and to turn a blind eye to the consequences of your work in the for-profit world. I never wanted to be broke, so the nonprofit world I stayed away from. But I was always looking to solve problems and think of ways to bring people together for a common good.
Social entrepreneurship is first and foremost about seeking to solve a problem in your community or in the world and bringing effective solutions using market principles. I cringe when I see people use the term flippantly where they don't have a problem to solve other than making people rich. That is NOT social entrepreneurship. Through Soul and Story, I'm in the business of helping scale the impact of social entrepreneurs from Africa and the African diaspora.
Photo Credit: istockphoto
MRTV: I am seeing more blogs and online magazines dedicated to black travelers. I am even seeing more black entrepreneurs becoming travel agents - #PassportClique. We are going to places traditional media doesn’t always describe in a positive light. How is Soul and Story trying to change the narrative?
TF: I hope I am getting people to understand is that there is more happening in countries with large black and brown populations than what the media tells us. The media is favorable to predominantly white European countries and not favorable to countries with large black populations. I want to share the stories of people doing amazing things in places like Haiti and Brazil, I encourage travelers to seek out black-owned businesses to support when they travel. I would like to see travelers be a bit more mindful of how and where we spend our travel dollars, that demonstrates an understanding of economics as well as social issues. We, as Americans, sometimes don't really understand what is happening around the world and mainstream American media doesn't bring us that information in an unbiased way. We have to be intentional about understanding what is happening in other countries and separating hype and stereotypes from facts and the truth.
I also hope that people have a better grasp of how we are all interconnected and how we are much more similar that we are not. Last but not least, I want to increase our tolerance for receiving and synthesizing information...moving beyond soundbites and memes. Things are more nuanced than can be captured in a sassy quip or in a the confines of a meme.
The amount of misinformation is astounding, and the rate which people believe it and then reguirtate it concerns me. We can do better, I hope to be one of the many people out here educating and sharing more than a single story.
MRTV: We have all seen them, right? The Instagram models dressed elaborately for photo shoots, not buying anything, not contributing to the economy - simply using the people and their living conditions as props. What is your opinion on influencers and celebrities going to poorer countries and using poverty as an aesthetic?
TF: Poverty is not an aesthetic. People are not animals in zoo's who exist only for our consumption. Nor are people here for us feel some sort of fleeting pity for them for being poor or otherwise marginalized for 5 short minutes, toss some money at and then go back to our lives as usual. Which usually entails us participating in the system that keeps these same people poor and disenfranchised.
Because of the way we've been conditioned to think about certain places and people, I'm not sure if people know better to do better. We've all seen the commercials set somewhere in "Africa" (because you know, people think and act as if Africa is a country not a continent) or India where there is the emaciated child with flies orbiting him or her who needs our spare change in order to have a better life. This is how the media presents black and brown countries, we have been indoctrinated into this paradigm as a by product of living in a rich Western country. So, we think of these people as in need of our help, our benevolence, our assistance. Rarely do we understand what is really happening or know anything about the political, economic or social situation. We create this culture where we pity certain people and in doing so we deny them agency, we don't think of them as equals or peers. So, if I don't think of someone as my equal, if I think certain people need my pennies to survive, as people who can't help themselves...of course they become a prop in my photo op. Because it says, "here look at me, helping these poor people who would be destitute without me." Is this not what we've been taught to do, even if subconsciously.
Photo Credit: https://www.instagram.com/scheenadonia
What many people don't realize is that some countries are very poor because some countries are very rich. Some people have no shoes because some people have hundreds. And it is this that is the hard pill to swallow, because many people will say it's not their fault. But we fail to realize that when we buy say, a cheap tee-shirt from Walmart, someone somewhere is paying the price.
There are people, some of whom are children, working in horrible, dangerous conditions at the other end of supply chain so that we can have a good deal. This is a whole conversation in and of itself that has been the subject of much research, books and and scholarly essays, so it's impossible to do it justice here. But, we can think better about how we consume. The system needs our complacency to continue to do widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. And of course, there are political and social factors that come into play, but we can do our part even if it seems small. These are conversations we need to have and unfortunately, we live in a meme and soundbite society and the appetite for these hard conversations seem to only exist in limited certain circles, I hope to expand this conversations.
Photo Credit: https://www.instagram.com/scheenadonia
But right now, we'll see more instagram and facebook likes and shares for a pretty picture than content that talks about complex issues and challenges. But, there is room for both the pretty picture and the complex conversation, I hope to bring more of the latter to the forefront.
MRTV: Let's switch gears and discuss how nations rich in natural resources, precious metals and stones, produce and much more are being intentionally marginalized. For a number of reasons (we will have to discuss in another conversation - wink), these nations are not participating in the global economy to the degree wealthier nations are. How are you able to partner with women living abroad to tell their stories and bring their products to market here in the United States?
TF: There is a great deal of neo-colonialism happening, which is disheartening. I partner directly with the source, either the entrepreneur or co-op. I work only with black and/or indigenous entrepreneurs, those who have been the most marginalized, who are on the receiving end of the greatest injustice and oppressive policies and systems.
I travel often and I work as a social impact consultant. So I'm always looking for good people doing great things to partner directly with them and to tell their stories.
MRTV: Tell us a little bit about each business you have partnered with so far.
Photo Credit: SoulandStoryInc.com
TF: Maria Chantal (Brazil): Maria Chantal is making a statement and taking a stand against racism, intolerance and hate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her line of statement tee's is empowering black Brazilians to be proud of their heritage, their skin color and their curly hair.
Photo Credit: SoulandStoryInc.com
Alliance of Rural Communities of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad, Tobago, St. Lucia): Seeks to support and develop financially independent, community owned chocolate businesses and affiliated projects using rural resources, labor and creativity.
Photo Credit: SoulandStoryInc.com
Askanya Chocolates (Haiti): The first bean to bar chocolate company in Haiti. Deeks to create wealth and opportunities for the people of Haiti. Dissatisfied with the idea of only exporting the raw materials (cacao) from Haiti, Askanya is a complete chocolate production company that provides jobs (30 people employed) and pays farmer fair wages for their cacao.
Photo Credit: SoulandStoryInc.com
Afrontosa (Brazil): As a child, Monique Silveira, founder of Afrontosa felt left out and underrepresented in media and popular imagery. Representation of people with her curly hair and brown skin was hard to find in the media and books. Being the only black girl in her school, she felt further alienated as she watched her classmates be praised for their straight hair while she was criticized for her curly black hair and darker skin. Through Afrontosa, Monique seeks to be a reference so that every girl and woman can feel empowered and confident to be the cover and the star of their own life.
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MRTV: Having established a relationship with these ladies, how are their entrepreneurial challenges similar to what we face here?
TF: I'll talk specifically about the Afro-Brazilians I work with. Brazil is very much a mirror of the U.S. in many ways, particularly socially and politically. The struggles and challenges that blacks in Brazil face are very similar to our own here in the U.S. Obviously not identical and there are many other factors some of which we have here, some that we don't. But like us here black Brazilians are fighting to just wear their hair naturally without being considered as lesser or undesirable.
Economically, the Brazilian economy is in a very different place than ours; however, we still both have blacks being largely shut out of the upper echelons of corporate management and having lack of access to capital to start and grow businesses. Being shut out of the system is not just about not having money, it is about lack of access, lack of resources and opportunity. We see this both in the U.S. and in Brazil.
MRTV: Obviously our job is to encourage our circles of influence to support these businesses with our dollars. In what other ways can you tell us how best to also advocate for them as an activist would?
TF: Learn. Educate yourself on what is happening outside of our borders. Support local indigenous organizations that are promoting positive change where your support goes directly to the source for maximum impact.
Also, except for specific circumstances stop bringing donations in the form of school supplies, toys, etc... to poorer countries. Buy them when you get there. Support local makers and industry. When we flood markets with free goods we weaken the local economy. People have been put out of businesses because foreigners send free items to markets, where local people produce the same items. For most of these small items, there is someone at the point of origin that makes/sells it. If for some reason procuring these items is difficult for some, there is more than likely a local organization who is trying to make them more accessible. This is who you want to partner with.
If you can't find a local organization, just give cash to whomever you would be giving the school supplies or toys and let them make the decision to spend the money on what is in the best interests of the population they serve. And you know what, this may mean that people get less cute photo ops to post showing what they brought for some poorer person and so be it. We have to think bigger than our social media and bypass our egos if we really want to bring about change.
Photo Credit: Freepik.com
MRTV: How can more social entrepreneurs partner with you and sell their goods on Soul and Story's website?
TF: I curate and select partners through my travels. Through my work I am in contact with a lot of social entrepreneurs; however those that are interested in partnering can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MRTV: What advice can you give someone who wants to raise money for a cause they truly believe in?
TF: Partner with local indigenous organizations. Put your ego and wants aside: it's not about what you want to do but what people need, and how to meet that need without adverse effects. Sometimes we (those with more privilege) have a tendency to sweep in with "solutions" because we think we know best, this often does more harm than good. And sadly, there are many organizations who are simply in the business of being a non profit and not in the business of actually solving problems.
Disparity is a delicate thing... Look for interventions with sustainable, actionable results led by those in the communities where action is needed. I wrote two posts on this very subject, those interested can read them here and here.
MRTV: If you were on a 10 hour flight, who would you want to sit next to and why?
TF: This is funny because my first thought is, "no one!". If I'm on a 10 hour flight, I'd be praying to whatever gods that are listening that I'd have the entire row to myself.
MRTV: What 3 things do you always take with you when you are traveling abroad?
TF: My planner. I'm old fashioned, I like to put pen to paper. I need to capture my thoughts, crunch numbers, plan out my day and flesh out ideas. I like my Afrontosa notebooks from Brazil because they are unlined so I can sketch, write, etc and they are cute!
Candles. Ambiance is important to me. I use candles not only for the scent, but it helps to ground me and help me balance myself which is important for me when I'm traveling. Usually, I'll light a candle play some music or read a book. Maybe a glass of wine. Just to unwind and relax. Right now I'm loving the Amor Mas Candles, they come in a tin that is perfect for travel.
Priority Pass. This is essential for layovers. Lounge access gives me a place to relax, eat and drink while in transit. Also, some have showers and other amenities that come in handy when you're in transit for a long time.
I am so grateful to Tammy for sharing her perspective on Buying Black from a global economic standpoint. Businesses, merchants, co-ops throughout African and the African diaspora need change agents such as Soul and Story. Be sure to follow them online, on Facebook and Instagram.