10-16 October 2014 #727

Shoes with soul

Interview with Dulma Clark of Soul of Africa to know more about the planned initiative in Nepal.

Lance Clark, a sixth generation member of the Clarks’ Shoe family and its former head is coming to Nepal this week. In 2003 Clark founded the non-profit Soul of Africa which supports orphans in African countries. Soul of Africa sells shoes produced in three African countries, all profit from sales go to funding different projects of the organisation. Clark has said he hopes to start a similar venture here. Nepali Times spoke to Dulma Clark of Soul of Africa to know more about the planned initiative in Nepal.

Made of soul: Women at Data Rapid Sole Shoe Factory in Ethiopia make Soul of Africa Shoes.
Nepali Times: You come from a long line of shoemakers in the UK, where did the inspiration for the 'Soul of Africa' come from?

Dulma Clark: The Soul of Africa was launched in 2003 in South Africa after Lance visited an orphanage in the outskirts of Durban. A child there grabbed his hand and asked to help him. Since then Lance Clark has been determined to use his knowledge of shoemaking industry to change lives of people in need. Soul of Africa is a social enterprise which follows the philosophy of ‘Aid Through Trade’ based on concept of self-sustainable employment. All profit that Soul of Africa makes is donated to fund educational and nutritional projects for children and orphans affected by AIDS.

It has been 10 years, would you say that the idea has worked?

Our aim in making all of our shoes in Africa is to provide sustainable employment, giving Africans a greater chance to generate their income through their own skills and support their families independently. So far, it has created some 600 jobs and generated $2 million to care for 10,000 African orphans. Today, Soul of Africa also operates in Tunisia and Ethiopia.

The most challenging part of raising money for charity through a commercial venture is sophisticated marketing. How difficult was it to establish the theme in the market? For the last 10 years, Soul of Africa has been successfully building its web and social media presence, increasing its online sales worldwide and raising awareness on the social issues it addresses. Our great supporter, Clarks Shoes, contributes an additional £3 for each pair of Soul of Africa branded shoes they sell through their own stores and online.

How do you ensure that the money to charity is properly used?

The Soul of Africa Company exists to raise money for the Soul of Africa Trust, registered in the UK, which funds projects to assist orphans and vulnerable children, mainly affected by the AIDS pandemic.

A strong, independent board of trustees at the Soul of Africa Trust determine how best to use the money generated from shoe sales. Lance Clark himself conducts on-site visits. The Trust works closely with reliable and well-established organisations, such as Rotary International in South Africa to find the projects to support. In Ethiopia, by selling Soul of Africa Barefoot shoes, we are able to help vulnerable children through our support of the charity ‘Beyond the Orphanage’ with their primary goal of establishing safe, stable homes, and once that is achieved, working to help each child develop to their full potential and prepare for independent living as they approach adulthood.

Lance Clark teaching women shoemaking in Durban, South Africa in 2003.
You must have done a lot of homework before coming to Kathmandu. Is there a possibility for a 'Soul of Nepal' line of shoes too?

Our objective in Nepal is to develop a distinctive shoe style with unique identity which is true to its Nepali origins and would be sellable on the world markets. We have been in communications with The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in the UK to help us on design and product development. The team from Alliance Nepal has also been providing us with invaluable information necessary to start the project.

Do you foresee any challenges in quality control or creating jobs in the shoe industry in Nepal?

Shoe making is very complex. It will be demanding to find reliable management to ensure quality and delivery on time. We hope that Alliance Nepal can help us to find reliable people.

If the venture did go through, how would you ensure that the recipient of funds from the sale of shoes is more than a charity, and a sustainable enterprise? Do you see any possibility?

A close friend of Lance Clark, Sheron Hendry, wrote a book Radhika’s Story based on true events that happened with a Nepali girl forced into prostitution. The book left a big impression on Lance. For a long time now, he has had a desire to bring his shoemaking project to Nepal. All the profit is planned to be allocated to an independent Nepali trust that will be set up to invest in Nepali girls and women education and rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.