A Guest Post by James Williams
Who says a person is too young to make a difference? James Williams came to partner with us several months ago after a life-changing trip to Kenya while a college student. Afterwards he started his own company called udu. We asked him to share with our readers his story with hopes that it might inspire you to support his work and/or put feet to your dreams of changing the world!
The idea for udu began when a college friend brought me a gift from Kenya several years ago – a hoodie. It peaked my interest. Not only did the crazy colors and patterns make it a great product, but it was a piece of clothing that created a connection between me and the craft maker on the other side of the world.
A couple months later, I met Dr. Tony Ahlstrom of Feed the Children. Dr. Ahlstrom told me about all of the incredible work being done around the world and specifically about the impact they were having in Kenya.
I thought carefully about the connection between these two experiences.
After digging a little deeper, I discovered a widespread entrepreneurial spirit among the Kenyan people. The hooded shirt my friend had brought me served as an example, but the fact that no one else could buy one, no matter how desirable it was, served as a testament to the economic limitations those self-starters faced.
Eager to test my schooling in a real world setting, I set out to start a company centered on the mission to alleviate those limitations.
While studying abroad in Spain the next summer, I continued to develop my plan for how I would actually do this. This was my plan:
Step one: I bought a plane ticket to Nairobi without knowing a soul there and having no real plan of what to do once I got there. I would have four days in Kenya to figure out how to get this thing rolling.
Step two: I emailed Dr. Ahlstrom telling him I would be visiting Kenya and asking if he would put me in touch with the Feed the Children staff there. He graciously entertained my request and introduced me to Seintje, the regional director of African programs.
Step Three: I traveled to Kenya to begin work!
When I arrived, my first meeting was with Jude, a friend of a friend who lived in Nairobi. Jude showed me all around Nairobi and helped me begin looking for tailors like the one who had made my hoodie. We also checked out fabrics and talked business with some local dealers. Then we visited Jude’s neighborhood, Dandora. Here we found a plethora of local tailors and fashion entrepreneurs.
Eventually we came upon George. George has lost the use of his legs and lives and works from his shop in Dandora. He was excited by the opportunity I presented and agreed to make samples of the hoodie for me to take back to the US. With my samples now in progress, Jude and I made our way to Feed the Children to share what I’d already learned.
I showed the Feed the Children staff in Nairobi my hoodie and asked if any of the women who are a part of their tailoring program might be able to make something like it. They said yes, and I told them I would buy all the hoodies the women made. The next day I headed home with 14 sample hoodies and a partner in Feed the Children that would prove to be invaluable.
After the trip and a few months of product development over weekly Skype meetings with Feed the Children staff back in Nairobi, I created a company called udu, named for the traditional African drum because I have learned that with any experience like this, you don’t always know exactly where you are headed and that’s ok- you just learn to keep following the beat.
Today, things are going great with udu. In addition to George, we employ four tailors who are Feed the Children beneficiaries and have recently joined forces with some other Kenyan entrepreneurs to explore new products and opportunities.
Thanks James, for showing us all that we can be the change we want to see in the world! Want to learn more about udu? Connect with them on Facebook.