Penny Power the founder of Ecademy on Ida Horner
I first met Ida at the Weybridge Ecademy meeting and was drawn to her by her sense of purpose and her drive. Ida, as you will read, it passionate, determined and very aware of the contribution she can make.
Penny Power the founder of Ecademy had this to say
What has inspired me about Ida is her ability to slowly and calmly build a network of advocates around her. I meet so many people who know, admire and like Ida very much but she does not make a noise just for the sake of being heard.
Ida can teach many of us how to be patient, how to work strategically on a mission and how to always leave an impression that is positive.
Ida is a 21st century Social Entrepreneur, she knows how to collaborate, she knows how to build an online reputation and she knows how to position her business in a way that all her stakeholders can share in the success, if Ida is successful the ripple effect is tremendous.
I wanted to write my story so far and share how it all came about. In December 2006 I left England for a holiday in my home country Uganda one thing led to another and this holiday changed my life as I knew it for ever.
I had a long standing invitation to visit a former colleague who had moved to Kenya as her husband had been posted there for work so I called on her for a whole week. When I got back to Uganda I had an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party by Lake Bunyonyi Kabale in SW Uganda. I had never been to this part of Uganda so I agreed to go. We had fantastic time, partying etc. The following day I asked my cousins if they would show me around the village.
The poverty of the people
I was shocked by what I saw, the poverty in the place was worse than anything I had ever seen. I could not reconcile the beauty of the landscape to the poverty of the people. This part of Uganda is very cold, so there were children walking on the country roads, with no shoes, runny noses, women carrying water on their heads, with rags for clothing.
We found some women weaving baskets
When we got to the top of the hill, we found some women weaving baskets and we started talking to them about their lives, and one thing they had in common was that although they had husbands who worked as casual labourers, they never got to see their husbands’ money, so it was up to them to ensure that the children in particular had food.
Contemplating what I had witnessed
I was in a contemplative mood as I left this village and headed back to the city for the rest of my holiday. Life had not changed for most of these people, the women were my age group, but looked so much older and most had no formal education. I wondered what would have happened to me if my father had decided not to put me through the education system because of my gender.
When we got home I had a heart to heart talk with my father who was very ill at this stage (he had just had a cancer diagnosis). This would be the last time I would have such a conversation as the next time I saw him he was in intensive care and died within hours of my arrival.
Back in the UK
I came back to the UK, with a view to doing something to help the women I had met, both in Kenya and Uganda. I was overwhelmed by how privileged my life was.
“I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal would come from, or being bitten by malaria causing mosquitoes, never mind accessing clean water by simply turning on a tap!”
Something on my mind
I went back to work, as a Housing Manager in Paddington, with feelings of “Oh well, that is not my life now, it was just a holiday, forget about it” But for some reason, I could not settle back into my role, I was in charge of a team of 7 staff, they too noticed this in me, and I wondered if it was because I had been away for a whole month. My boss irritated me amongst other things, but the last straw was a long running dispute between a Leaseholder and a tenant, the local politicians got involved too.
My thoughts turned to the folk I had left behind in East Africa. I thought to myself this has to be some of the most expensive council housing in the UK and the occupants are arguing over where a bench should be located etc!
Something I needed to do
When I got home that day, I wrote my resignation letter and handed it in the following day. At this stage I had no real idea what I was going to do but I knew that there had to be something better out there. I felt a strong sense of relief, until I started telling my family and friends what I had just done; some thought I had lost the plot for walking away from a well paid job. I must admit so did I, but once that letter of resignation was in there was no turning back.
Something in my heart
On my first day as an out of work person, I revisited that weekend’s copy of the Telegraph, and in it there was a copy of those free booklets, on International development, I read about what individuals were doing to help the poor, and at the end there was this sentence,
IF YOU THINK YOU ARE TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE TRY SLEEPING WITH A MOSQUITO!
A new direction
There was my answer of what I was going to do. I would go and use my skills of working with the poor in London on the poor of Africa. But it would not be about charity, it would be something that would enable the women to earn money from their work and this money would go directly to them.
What’s in a name?
I had some lovely bags that I had bought from a Malagasy woman in a market in Nairobi, as well as baskets and other bits and pieces from my holiday. I took these to a shop in Weybridge Surrey to get their view as to whether there was a market for such things. The shop owner said there would be as they were very well made, and gave me some price indication but told me there were all too ethnic for her shop.
With that in mind Ethnic Supplies was born!
As a civil servant I had no idea of running any sort of enterprise or where to start and a quick search on the internet lead me to my local Business Link in Woking. I was put through a programme lasting 10 weeks where I learned about marketing, sales, accounting, PR, website etc
My journey to Ecademy
The programme ended with an invitation to a Business exhibition at Kempton Park by Business link where I got to attend various workshops. Back then I had a real fear of anything techy and as I selected which of the workshops I should attend I made a mental note to avoid any workshops dealing with IT.
Looking back this doesn’t make sense at all as those are the very workshops I should have attended so I could learn about ICT By a bizarre twist of luck that is exactly what happened.
Whilst searching for a workshop on Marketing I ended up in the wrong room where the workshop was ICT related. I got in just in time to hear the facilitator say “Google loves Ecademy and Craig’s list” and he went on to ask who in the audience was signed up to either.
I realised I was in the wrong room and left but made a mental note to look up those two “things” (didn’t know what they were back then) when I got home. I did and signed up to both.
Shortly after signing up to Ecademy I went off to Tanzania to meet the first group of women I would work with, and on my return I went to Madagascar. It was whilst I was in Madagascar, that the value of Ecademy sunk in. I posted a blog about what I had seen and before I knew it, people were offering to send blankets, children’s clothing etc.
The friends I have made
Over the last two years I have made some good friends here on Ecademy and sadly some have left. I have had my hand held quite literary. I am grateful to Nathalie Jamois in particular, who helped sort out my website and pointed out the groups I should join on Ecademy, who to follow, Peter Blanchard, who helped with tips on sales and marketing, how to ask for a referral, David Nunn and the Weybridge Ecademy group, these folk are simply great, Emma James, the Ask Linda Ecademy group and some new found friends Ces Loftus, Suhad, Christine Miller and Carolyn Williams.
I don’t know when or how I @ethnicsupplies got into Twitter but frankly it doesn’t matter. However what does is the ability to connect with others that Twitter provides. I have no doubt folk will debate the inns and out of Twitter for some time to come of as we say in Africa until the cows come home but I would urge you not to dismiss it.
My Twitter story starts with a post sent by Ed whose Twitter handle is @chiefmoamba. Ed posted a Tweet in which he mentioned an Africa gathering in London. This is someone I didn’t know and I can’t even remember how he became my “Follower” or me his. He politely answered my questions one of which was how I could get hold of tickets to the Africa Gathering event in London.He informed me that the tickets were sold out and asked if I would mind leading on one the seminars! Phew! All of this in just a few minutes of exchanging what is technically text messages!
Having reviewed the details I asked him what on earth I would talk about as the whole gathering appeared to be about ICT. Well those who know me will not be surprised by this. He suggested that I could talk about my work at Ethnic Supplies. That is easy enough I thought, so I agreed to join them. Here is how the actual day went.
sincerely had no idea how much I relied on ICT in the running of Ethnic Supplies. What happened next following my appearance at the Africa Gathering knocked me for six. An email arrived in my in box, I along with the other speakers at that event were invited to submit a paper for a conference on Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Development and given a deadline of May 10 2009.
Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Development
I had the usual doubts, will I come up with a good enough paper to submit and even if I do, will it be good enough to be selected etc… One thing was certain if I didn’t submit a paper I will never know what the outcome would have been or would be. I therefore sat down and wrote a paper and sent it off and waited for the results that were promised on 24 May. Right on time the results were in on 24 May my paper had been accepted and this is what they said:
Accept. This author, who is not a part of the traditional ‘community’ of HCI4D, brings similar insights about listening to people impacted by development is critical to success. I think that her perspective would be very interesting – that we could learn from her experiences and vice versa. I also think that there is a potential for interesting collaboration as well. Although she does not explicitly mention ethical issues, they are implicit in what she has written.
Accepted, The author has clearly has done some serious thinking about the relevant work. I agree that we can learn by engaging with this person.
I could not believe my eyes and was glad that I had taken the time to submit the paper. I started to reflect on the power on Twitter as well as that following leads through. Whilst at the Africa Gathering I met three important people who were also running seminars. One of those people was Dr Chris Hutchison a lecturer at Kingston University. He ran a seminar on the University’s Africa project and sat in on my seminar too.
We had brief conversation afterwards, he introduced me to his colleague Catherine we and agreed to meet up to continue the conversation. May was a busy month for us all and it became near impossible to meet. I had a work assignment that took me off to Uganda, and then there was the BBC Gardener’s World Exhibition during the second week of June. When this ended in the belief that the “fortune is the follow up “I dropped Chris a line with possible dates of meeting him and Catherine.
It transpired that he was speaking at a conference in Latvia. I also learned from him that there was a conference at the University on 26 June 2009 and I would be welcome to be one of the speakers, which I promptly took up and my topic was – Representation and Interpretation – focusing on how Africa is portrayed in the popular media.
At the conference I learned from Chris that he had been made head of the University’s Africa Project. He and Catherine were currently working on a project in South Africa and want to explore ways of promoting financial independence for the women. Chris asked if I would consider collaborating with them on this particular project by including them in what I do at Ethnic Supplies Ltd. Discussions are still under way.
The most exciting connection on Twitter was with a fellow Ugandan who lives in Texas and whose Twitter handle is @tmsruge. Like me Teddy is working to help a group of women and children access western markets with their wares. We have decided to join forces. I have recently sent off the samples of the work of the women’s group he is involved with to MONSOON ACCESSORISE having met them at London Fashion Week, and I am waiting for feedback.
So where am I with Ethnic Supplies
I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all, and there have been times when I have questioned my mental health and felt like walking away altogether but I have come through those times, with the good will of others who wish me to succeed. Ethnic Supplies appears to have gone in 4 distinct directions:
Some folk are interested in the products due to their uniqueness and quality, and these are the regular customers. There has been an increase in ethically made products, and some people out there are changing the way they shop
Some are not interested in products but in what I have to say (the message behind the products), so this has presented speaking opportunities for me as well as opportunities to collaborate with others including academics.
Some are looking to source products that I don’t carry at Ethnic Supplies so I provide a consultancy service to such people. My first client is a coffee roaster from North London. I have introduced him to the Ugandan Coffee Development Agency and a local coffee co-operative in Uganda that he can work with. They have produced a purely Uganda coffee that isn’t currently available on the UK market and are awaiting certification from Italy.
Having set up Ethnic Supplies, I came across Ann McCarthy who was also working in SW Uganda , we agreed to work together to address the issue of water shortage in the village and have since set up and registered a charity:
LET THEM HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY.
Some high points so far
The biggest achievement that makes it all worthwhile is the impact that my work has on the women producers. I can’t begin to tell you what it feels like when one of them says to me I have been able to send my children to school because you found a market for my baskets. I exhibited at the BBC garden’s world live this year- this was made possible by Penny Ritson.
I submitted a paper to a workshop on Ethics Roles and Relationships in Interaction design in developing regions, which was part of a much wider conference Interact2009 in Uppsala Sweden my paper, was accepted and I was invited to present it on 24 and 25 Aug 2009, further details here. This was through a random connection on Twitter.
Pipe line projects:
I have recently been contacted by a Scottish company that specialises in African inspired Tartans to help them start a new line of Tartans using Wild silk from Madagascar. Another assignment will see me accompany a group of ladies from Surrey through South Africa in March next year.
has been a big part of helping me to move forward, even the contract with the coffee roaster came about as a result of a random connection here on Ecademy with Charles Okwalinga. I use my blog to communicate
share and learn. I remember a blog I posted on FAIRTRADE way back in February and the discussion continued well into May, and I have forged new connections with some of the folk who turned up for the discussion. I have a lot of learning to do still.
I would like to move away from holding the products myself to supplying them to others which is the goal I started out with. I continue to speak to Retailers about this. This would free me up to spend more time in Africa working alongside the ladies. There are huge gaps in the skills set especially when it comes to supplying overseas and this has meant that they have missed out because their orders were late.
I would also like to build on the consultancy work where I help businesses to set up in Africa or partner with African businesses through my network of contacts both here and in Africa.
Do you know any buyers at retail outlets that I could approach or companies wishing to set up in Africa but don’t know where to start?
Founder Ethnic Supplies Ltd
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