Monday, September 26, 2005


Every day we are witnessing the beginning of this new era I have been calling "Enlightened Capitalism" It is the following story that inspires us all to re-examine our priorities and adds fuel to the argument that there is hope and a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The story of Susan Standfield is just one of many. The encouraging part is she is in her late 30's with plenty of time to carry the message that being a "social entreprenuer" is a GOOD thing! With permission of the Vancouver Sun , here is her story:

SUSAN STANDFIELD'S Fashion T Shirts bring prosperity to Kenyan orhphans.

Yvonne Zacharias
Vancouver Sun

September 24, 2005

There is a saying in Africa -- moja moja -- that translates into English as one at a time. Susan Standfield has to remember it at times. Through tiny steps and tiny stitches, she is hoping to take bits of thread, swaths of cloth, the rhythms of Africa, the spirit of its children and weave a dream into reality.

It all began about four years ago in the middle of the night when she decided she was through with her job in television advertising.

"I didn't like the schedule. I didn't like the pressure. I didn't like how it treated people," said the 37-year-old Vancouver woman. "It was fine when I was younger. I didn't own anything at the end of the day. We made lots of money but I was always unemployed as soon as the job was over. I thought, I have to build something for my future."

Casting around, she hired a business coach to help her find her way.

Focus on the things you love, she was advised. Those happened to be four things: kids, photos, Africa and fashion design.

Out of that hazy sketch a little company grew. Called the Children's Photographic Gallery of Kenya, the company's premise is simple: children in Kenyan orphanages take photos of themselves to be distributed, primarily on T-shirts, for sale. The children are paid 10 per cent of the proceeds for their work, raising much-needed funds for the dirt-poor orphanages.

In western eyes, there are so many reasons to disbelieve. A for-profit company helping orphans? Aren't there enough designer T-shirts on the market already? How can this work?

Yet, in Kenyan eyes, there are so many reasons to believe.

Standfield herself initially approached the idea with trepidation. As soon as the words were out of her mouth to the coach, she was terrified. "I thought, oh my God, okay, when you tell somebody your dream, you are kind of on the hook."

Where to begin with such a dream? It wasn't the sort of job you would find in the Help Wanted ads.

She got her answer in an article in March of last year in The Vancouver Sun's travel section. North Vancouver freelancer Tim Morrison told readers about coming across a very special orphanage called SHERP, which stands for Samburu Handicap Education and Rehabilitation Program, while travelling in Kenya.

Morrison wrote about a heroic and compassionate local woman named Grace Seneiya who founded the orphanage, for children with disabilities in 1999. She truly is amazing Grace.

Both Standfield's business coach and her stepmother drew Standfield's attention to the article, which included an e-mail address for contacting Seneiya. It was a eureka moment for Standfield. She contacted this woman named Grace.

She registered the business and then in July of last year, sent off six plastic cameras to Seneiya along with how-to-photograph instructions with translations in Swahili and examples of the types of photos she wanted. She marked them "for handicapped kids," hoping that would prevent them from being robbed in the mail.

Seneiya admits to being a bit nervous when she opened the package at the orphanage. She quickly overcame her reservations. "I never thought it would work out because the children had never handled cameras before. But they learned so fast. I only took two weeks to teach them. They were so excited," she said in an interview from Kenya.

Seneiya's faith in the idea brought a gust of fresh air to Standfield, keeping her dream airborne.

Two months later, the film came back to Canada. "When I got them back from the lab, I was terrified they wouldn't expose properly and these kids would feel bad."

Standfield need not have worried. The kids did a fantastic job. Suddenly, it was time to quit her part-time job in Vancouver and devote herself totally to the business.

"I just jumped into it. I wasn't really prepared. I didn't have the kind of capital that every business needs, but every business births itself into life. Mine just started and I had to go with it."

She started selling the T-shirts bearing the kids' photos. "I started realizing that as fast as I was able to get a product out, people were willing to buy it. That's partly because they were friends and colleagues, but partly because I tried to make them cool, little consumable art products."

Selling the T-shirts primarily through her downtown studio at Suite 1022, 475 Howe St., she offered buyers a choice of colours, photographs and one-word logos like Swahili words for joy or happiness. A chic, fashionable woman herself, she would buy basic T-shirts and then redesign them, handstitching around the collar, the sleeves and the bottom.

She has sold about 90 limited edition T-shirts at $60 apiece. Another 60 were given to the three orphanages that have now signed on to the project to sell or were given away as thank-yous to people who helped the business. Because this is a business and not a charity, Standfield accepts nothing for free.

She is now at the point where she realizes she can't make all the T-shirts herself, so she needs to set up a sewing workshop. She would rather do that in Kenya than here, so she is planning to move to Nairobi in November.

To launch the business in Kenya, she is trying to pre-sell 1,000 T-shirts at $100 apiece. She has a long way to go. So far, she has sold 10, but she is undaunted.

She wants to use Kenyan products and labour exclusively to create jobs. By turning the orphanage mothers and the children into partners in the business, she is hoping to make about $500 a month for each of 10 orphanages.

Pie in the sky? Maybe. But Standfield dreams in big technicolour swatches. Her vision is longterm. If she can pull it off, it will be a tremendous boon to the orphanages, which scramble to come up with the necessities and function on a budget of $30 per child per month.

Early on in the adventure, she told film maker and friend Sam Oliver about the plan. Sam bought in right away and they planned on going to Africa to film, The film posed major challenges for Oliver. "Where would you like me to start?" he said, when asked what they were. "I had never been to Africa. I had no money. It was my first time making a long-format film, so I was kind of making it up as I went along. Also, we didn't really know what the story was going to be until way down the line." All the while, he had to worry about having his gear stolen.

Despite $3,000 in funding from the National Film Board, he has yet to come up with a $10,000 shortfall in making it. Through his company, bloodredcolt, he is still looking for a distributor.

Sam and Susan had worked on and off together for a number of years on television commercials and on a calendar to raise money for the Pivot Legal Society, which advocates for people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. That venture on home turf demonstrated to Standfield the power and potential of altruistic commerce.

The world is so overpopulated already, she explains. To bring another child into the world? She doesn't know. "I can do this so easily with these 100 kids who are hoping, expecting the T-shirt business to work for them rather than being a mom to one child in Vancouver. That's a gift, I think. To be able to be that to a lot of kids."

Standfield is a passionate believer in the private enterprise model rather than the non-profit charitable or non-governmental organization (NGO) model. She said the former encourages those who benefit to become self-reliant participants rather than passive recipients of aid.

Being a private company, she is forced to be profitable and has the motivation to succeed. Her hands also aren't tied by the restrictive rules surrounding government aid.

She sees herself as one of a new breed of social entrepreneurs who are "posing a new challenge to NGOs and charities because we are getting access to larger amounts of private capital that has traditionally been used for NGOs."

She also sees her business as being on the crest of a wave of compassionate consumerism and greater corporate social responsibility that is coming our way. It is a trend that will see consumers eschewing commercially produced T-shirts for those from companies whose profits are funnelled into needy places and who make a point of playing by the fair trade and environmental rules. She said countries like England are much farther ahead of Canada on that front.

Standfield believes if everyone tried to do even a little, the world would be a better place. She is trying to do her part by investing foreign capital in Kenya.

She notes that by 2010, sub-saharan Africa is projected to have 25 million orphans. It now has 11 million, with 1.5 million of those being in Kenya. Four million of those 11 million will die before their fifth birthday. Such a waste and such a tragedy. What will the many others do with their lives?

Standfield said they can pick up guns, join resistance movements and turn to prostitution or they can transform the world for the better.

When she was in Kenya, she saw so much hope that they will decide on the latter course. When she asked the kids on camera what they wanted to do with their lives, almost all said they wanted to help people. They had dreams of becoming pilots, singers and advocates for women.

"These kids have Grace. They have the matrons and the orphanage. But mostly what you really need to survive in life is hope, the reason to believe. That's all these kids need -- to believe that there will be something for them in life."

It won't happen overnight. Moja, moja. One at a time.


Susan Standfield, e-mail to; website at

Sam Oliver, e-mail to, website at

Grace Seneiya,

Phyllis Keino,

Spirit of Faith orphanage (which is also involved in Standfield's project), e-mail to; website at

Buddha says; "To what end should the thought: 'I am the result of my own deeds, heir to deeds, having deeds for matrix, deeds for kin; to me the deeds come home again; whatever deed I do, whether good or evil, I shall become it's heir,' be contemplated often by man or woman".

1 comment:

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