1. Notes: 2 / 4 years ago 

    RE-BRANDING AFRICA: Deconstructing The Brand

    We live in a world where shock value regularly trumps true value. Consequently international aid agencies either play ball or loose the opportunity for funding. And it’s not just the funding mechanisms that are tainted, it’s the “brand” that’s generated in order to garner the funds.

    The media are looking for scenes of destruction, starving children, AIDS victims and tyrannical dictators toting gold plated AK-47s. Why? Because it gets people’s attention, and more specifically, their donor dollars. Pull those heart strings hard enough and money should fall out.

    What if the media focused on Africa’s beauty, excellence and ability to rise above their circumstances? I’ve studied Africa most of my life, and have lived there (Rwanda) for four years. She is awe inspiring, magnificent in her vast beauty, with so much untapped talent. But that is not her brand.

    Does America have corruption, disease and poverty? Of course. But people from all over the world come to America in droves to visit, invest and build businesses. People expect greatness out of America. Why? Because America has done an outstanding job of branding itself as the home of freedom and thriving businesses. 

    What if we approached Africa’s brand from the same perspective; that of a great tourist destination and place to invest and build businesses? Might that accomplish the desired results better than continuing to portray her as the charity case we’ve made her out to be? What if we expected greatness from Africa, and then marketed her that way?

    Imagine it; “Come to Africa, home of spectacular wildlife, more resources than almost any other continent, overflowing with business opportunities and all the talent and manpower you could ever want. Africa, promise land of the future”. Certainly paints a different (yet accurate) picture than we’re used to doesn’t it?

  3. 4 years ago 

    RE-BRANDING AFRICA: Introduction

    I’m convinced that a large part of what holds Africa (and others) back from being a “developed continent” stems from a less than desirable branding trend. The international aid community has done a phenomenal job of branding her as some sort of Mad Max desert overrun with corruption, disease and poverty. However, I assure you that is not representative of the Africa I know and love.

    The typical American (and Sarah Palin) doesn’t understand that Africa is actually a continent, the second largest in the world, not a country. She’s overflowing with natural resources and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. She produces 46% of the world’s chromium, 48% of its diamonds, 29% of its gold and 48% of its platinum, just to name a few of her attributes.

    I’ve always said “Hey, if you don’t brand yourself, the market will do it for you, and it may not be as glowing of a brand as you’d hope for.” That is certainly the case with Africa. But it’s not too late. In fact there’s good momentum in the right direction (thank you Bono).

    It’s time to start re-branding Africa for what she really is; one of the most awe inspiring continents on the planet, abundant with resources and room to make it all happen.  So I’m writing a series of blogs on this topic. No idea how many there will be, but it’s a multifaceted topic, so probably quite a few.

  5. Notes: 1 / 4 years ago 

    Emotional Redundancy

    Aid agencies are emotional. Someone saw an injustice or a need and developed what they believed would be a better solution. They had grand intentions of helping those in need, and they believed no one else would do it with the amount of passion and determination they would. So they started an aid agency; one that would “finally” solve the problems at hand*.

    People start aid agencies “for the people”, as opposed to their ego or personal gain. Not always the case, but I still like to believe it represents the majority.

    You can reduce most of Africa’s needs down to a handful of core issues such as health care, education, business development and awareness (letting the world know what’s going on). But there are thousands of them out there. Capital cities in East Africa are about half aid agency these days. The streets are lined with their offices and logo plastered SUVs.

    But if we only have a handful of core issues, how many agencies does it really take to address them? So many have the same initiatives as their neighbor (literally), yet they refuse to collaborate, or even share notes. If they are still doing it “for the people”, isn’t this counterproductive?

    We could use some collaboration here. If it’s really “for the people”, let’s put our money (and ideas) where our mouth is. We could probably take 100 agencies, turn them into 10, and do a lot more good, but because they are so emotionally driven, people aren’t willing to share control and collaborate.

    Fortunately, groups like Unreasonable Institute and Ashoka recognize this trend and are taking great strides to bring unity to the great minds inclined to start an aid agency. The trend towards Social Entrepreneurialism is certainly paving a much brighter future for developing countries.

    *Four years ago I said “The world doesn’t’ need any more aid agencies; they need to just start collaborating.” So naturally I started my own aid agency. It’s now a for-profit social enterprise, but the journey to get here was an  invaluable experience that helped me understand the interworkings of an aid agency.

  7. Notes: 3 / 4 years ago 

    Fight the System! (Or Maybe Not)

    I am a born activist, and love to “fight the system”. I grew up listening to Rage Against the Machine, toting a “Free Leonard Peltier” sign. However, I’ve learned that sometimes there’s a much more effective way to provide a solution to a problem.

    I spent years lobbying for women’s rights, fighting governments for more action and accountability, and so on. Consequently, I garnered lots of high powered enemies and landed myself in jail more times than I can count. I did manage to pass some a pretty significant bill for the “criminalization of the solicitation of prostitution”, but passing a bill and actually enforcing the law are two very different things.

    I thought, “Ok, if I’m doing this to protect and empower women, am I really achieving that through my actions?” The majority of what I was accomplishing was making myself a martyr, and the women actually became more of a target than they were previously. Not cool.

    So, I created KEZA as a way to provide a way out of prostitution and legitimate income to women that would, as a result, never have to enter into prostitution as a way to survive. Better to be pro-active, as opposed to reactive anyway, right?

    Now we our program provides these amazing women with lucrative careers and a path to dignity. And all of those high powered people that I would have been going toe to toe with are singing our praises and supporting our work instead of trying to haul me (and the women) into jail.

    Sometimes fighting the system merely serves the people fighting the system, not the people that they’re trying to help, which sort of defeats the purpose. There’s often a better, more sustainable and impacting way to serve the people, but it typically requires more though.

  9. Notes: 4 / 4 years ago 
    Marriage is so much more than I imagined it would be. I am amazed at the reality that our souls are intertwined; forever. She is my lover, my soulmate, my partner, my best friend and my queen.

    Marriage is so much more than I imagined it would be. I am amazed at the reality that our souls are intertwined; forever. She is my lover, my soulmate, my partner, my best friend and my queen.

  11. Notes: 7 / 4 years ago 

    When Greatness is Expected

    The aid world talks incessantly about “sustainability” in Africa, especially in reference to setting up businesses. Isn’t that the least we would expect from a business in the West? If I operated a business in Nashville, TN, it’s unlikely I’d consider myself a success if I merely kept the doors open year after year. Yet this seems to be the most we expect of Africa.

    I feel that this is yet another great injustices we have imposed on Mother Africa.

    Why don’t we expect greatness? And what might happen if we did? John Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.” Is it possible that a people group might rise to greatness if it was continually expected of them?

    If we desire to empower Africa to pull itself out of poverty and achieve economic independence from aid agencies and government, we must set the bar higher. We cannot settle for sustainable businesses; they must be sustainable at the very least with the ultimate goal of profitability.

    If we expect mediocrity, everyone involved is set up for failure and disappointment. Might we be contributing to the problem with these low expectations? We’ve got to strive for better. There are many components that will contribute to Africa’s success, but I believe this is integral to sending them in the right trajectory.

  13. Notes: 4 / 4 years ago 

    There is Purpose

    We see atrocities every day. We incessantly discuss the topics of suffering and death, asking , “why does God allow these things to happen?” In our ignorance, we clamor for meaning. We grow jaded because we’ve fooled ourselves into believing we are capable of understanding the infinite complexities of life.

    Those that have witnessed or experienced great suffering and tragedy are filled with questions and doubt. “What have I done to deserve this?” But this world is greater than you or I. We were created as humanity, not just as individuals. We are not fully human alone. Though much of the world rejects this concept, I do believe we were created for interdependence, for ubuntu.

    Our actions have consequences, creating a ripple effect across the world greater than we could fathom. We are interconnected, whether we want to be or believe we are. Humanity has come to a majority agreement that every cause results in an effect. If this is so, wouldn’t this further imply that there is a purpose for it all? 

    It is our choice to believe that it is circumstantial or arbitrary, or that everything has a purpose. I do not find it possible to believe both. I do not believe in a God of chance.

    I have come to believe two core truths:
    1) There is purpose in everything; literally everything.
    2) The outcome of that purpose is not dependent upon my understanding of it.

    Truly believing this way is what enables me to not be crushed by the weight of the plight of humanity. It weighs heavy on my heart, but I believe there is a plan, and that I am operating on its behalf. Furthermore, I know I will not be dealt anything that I have not been equipped to endure. It is here that I find peace.

  15. Notes: 4 / 4 years ago 

    The World Moves for Love

    It is seldom I take the risk of penning my thoughts on the many facets of love. It is infinite in scope and influence. It is a state of mind. To treat someone with love is a choice, though loving someone may not seem to be.

    In Latin, there is but one word to describe both justice and equality; aequitas. I cannot treat my neighbor as my equal if I do not first love him enough to do so. If I believe he is my equal, I cannot possibly treat him unjustly. Ubuntu is the culmination of justice and equality; the essence of love.  

    I believe love is at the center of all things good. It is love that enables us to experience justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Justice at its best is love correcting all that stands against love”. It is defeated only by its absence and victorious only through its presence. And the crescendo of this unparalleled and unbridled power is that it cannot be used for selfish dominion over another without defeating itself. This may be the mightiest of all earthly phenomenon we will experience here on earth.

    Humanity has grown accustomed to believing a world driven by love is foolish and unattainable. Fear drives us, rather than love. But this is contrary to the core of our being. This is why we fight for love. This is why we yearn for it to overcome all that stands against it. It’s how we were created. Deep down, we believe in its power. “The world moves for love. It bows before it in awe.” This is the world I believe in.

  17. Notes: 3 / 4 years ago 

    (Un)fair Trade

    The Fair Trade concept was pioneered by missions groups and non-profits back in the early ‘40s. The idea is that if a product is produced with Fair Trade practices, one can assume it was created “fairly”. This concept has become a household term due to the proliferation of corporate transparency caused by the internet boom in the early ‘90s.

    However, there has been some speculation as to whether Fair Trade is actually bolstering sustainable growth or just allowing for a new marketing ploy for Fair Trade certified businesses. In many cases, the new wages are just a fraction higher than what it was before, and typically still far below the market value of the product.

    In many cases, Fair Trade seems to be (at best) merely making business “better than it was”. While I do believe Fair Trade is positive and necessary, I also believe it’s time to move beyond it.

    This calls for pricing that is determined by the market value of a product rather than just what you can buy it for. If a boutique sells a product for $200, that would indicate that it was purchased for about $100 from a wholesaler that bought it for $50 from the artist. But that’s far from typical. A product like this is more likely to be purchased for closer to $5-$10 in a place like Rwanda or Kenya.

    But we have the opportunity to change that dynamic. If we pay according to the market value of the product, we still experience great margins, the artist receives a “fair” price for their product, and the retail margin isn’t affected. And this raises the bar for what buyers are expected to pay in developing countries. This seems like a logical scenario doesn’t it? Anything less just seems…unfair.

  19. Notes: 3 / 4 years ago 

    Business Is Bad

    How did general business practices get so bad that we had to come up with a new method called “social entrepreneurship”. Why isn’t all business done in such a way that it builds communities, enhances the lives of the people running the businesses, and bolsters the betterment of humanity?

    Shouldn’t your success as an entrepreneur be gauged by whether or not you are benefiting the lives of the people that work with/for you, as well as the amount of money you are able to put in the bank? How did the rest of humanity miss out on the transaction? If you have a business that makes a lot of money off of the oppression and exploitation of others, you have failed. Sure, you found a way to make money, but that’s only part of the deal.

    The real successes are when someone is able to create a profitable business that doesn’t destroy the lives of others, but in fact enhances them.

    But, it is what it is. So now we have “social entrepreneurship”. I suppose that will work, but now we need to convert everyone else over to that system and make it the new standard. Easier said than done, but we, as consumers, certainly have the power to influence the industry. After all, we’re the ones buying the product. And it doesn’t matter what they make, or how they make it. It matters if we buy it. Therefore, we are in charge.

  21. Notes: 3 / 4 years ago 
    "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’"
    - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  23. Notes: 5 / 4 years ago 

    People, Not Haitians

    A 7.0 earthquake struck Port au Prince, Haiti last evening (1/12/10). This is a devastating blow to an already impoverished country with little infrastructure for stability. It’s estimated that over 3 million people have already been displaced, and the death toll is in the thousands. 

    I’ve been in humanitarian work long enough to know that this is a time to leave the relief work to the experts and for the rest of us to do what we can to help them do what they do best. I’d be the first to be on a plane to Haiti, ready to pull people out of the trenches. However, utilizing our networks to help raise the funds for relief supplies is what they need most, not me running around acting like I know what I’m doing.

    There are hundreds of excellent aid agencies in Haiti that are tackling this crisis. I happen to know one of them well, and that’s Danita’s Children. Karris Hudson, has been in Haiti for 8 years now. I know many people that support her efforts there. We go to the same church here in Nashville and she and my sister were close in high school. Suffice it to say, I know their work, I know donations go straight to the people they serve, they know what they’re doing and I trust them.

    If you want to help, I urge you to give to Danita’s Children and follow their lead on how to help. You can see their updates and make donations here.

    It’s not “those Haitians” that are in trouble. It’s real live human beings. It’s mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, just like you and me. If you truly believe we are all equal, this is a good time to put your money where your mouth is.

  25. Notes: 4 / 4 years ago 


    Due to the nature of our increasingly infinitesimal attention spans and continual desensitization to violence, humanitarian initiatives must exercise some serious marketing savvy. We have to fight hard to get people’s attention and compel them to act.

    Check out the image (below) of the Landmine Removal Campaign designed by Publicis Mojo. This is what they had to say: “Using a ketchup sachet, we demonstrated the horrific nature of living in a land mine affected country and how much a part of everyday life that horror is. The idea is simple: as you tear open the sachet you also rip through the child’s leg and the ketchup inside pours out like blood.”CALM Landmine Campaign - http://calm.org.nz/Many would view this as extremely vulgar and offensive. But many of those same people have no qualms about watching a brutally violent TV show or movie. Why is it ok to make up violence to a point where you condition society to be desensitized to it, but it’s not acceptable to reveal true life images and stories for the purpose of sensitizing and educating people?

    Is this campaign something I would recommend in a perfect world? Absolutely not. But we certainly don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a violent, desensitized world. And it’s edgy ad campaigns like this that tend to compel people to actually get involved. Otherwise it doesn’t even register on their radar.

    We’re going to have to be creative and market savvy in order to compete with Hollywood. So when we do it, don’t say we’re “offensive and over the top”. Revel in the fact that we’re savvy enough to get your attention now.

    NOTE: This blog post refers to advocacy and awareness campaigns, not to organizations like KEZA where we are building businesses. Business and advocacy require very different tactics.

  27. Notes: 11 / 4 years ago 
    the essence of ubuntu theory

    the essence of ubuntu theory

  29. Notes: 4 / 4 years ago 

    Excuse Me, Your Style is Speaking

    We say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and that certainly makes sense. The same phenomenon applies to fashion.

    We don’t always feel comfortable talking to strangers in places where people congregate, such as  nightclubs, coffee shops or on public transportation. But it’s to be expected that you will see cliques of people similarly dressed or styled standing closer to one another, or even striking up a bit of small talk.

    We say something about who we are through our style. There’s no denying it. Our style allows us to fit into some crowds and often excludes us from others. I’m nearly covered in tattoos. When I walk into a Subway and see another tattooed fellow, I’d likely give him a friendly nod in recognition of our commonality in this eclectic world.

    We feel more comfortable with people that look, act, speak like we do. Since the beginning of time, fashion has served as a powerful form of communication. Consequently fashion has helped to weave the fabric of our many different societies. So, for those who believe fashion is petty or inconsequential, I’d have to disagree.

    Like it or not, our outward appearance is all many people ever know of us. Think of that person you see in the coffee shop every day and have never talked to. You’d be lying to yourself if denied having some sort of notion about what type of person they are based on their style.

    Our style speaks for us often more frequently than our words. It’s a powerful phenomenon. What is yours saying?

These are my thoughts, and more likely my agendas. Let’s call a spade a spade. I want to inspire people to treat each other with love and respect, and to live each second as if it were our last.

At the end of the day, I appreciate the journey, good and bad. I believe there is purpose in everything; literally everything. And the more I embrace that, the more I truly live; the more peace I have.

I believe in the social entrepreneur model, as opposed to the traditional forms of aid that have crippled developing nations for decades. And on top of that, I believe the fashion industry is one of the best industries to leverage as a tool to combat poverty and help restore dignity to developing nations. So that's my thing. If that's not appealing, you might want to read a different blog.

I believe in the power and importance of ubuntu. I aspire to do more…more than I have to. I won’t "change the whole world", but I intend to make some significant improvements along the way as I try. And I’ll fight for all sorts of justice, up to the day they throw dirt on me.

I thank God that I get to live this life. Carpe diem.

+ Comments are welcome. I'd love for this to be a two way conversation. +

Jared's Biography

Jared N Miller is President/CEO of KEZA, a couture fashion label building fashion businesses in Africa for underprivileged women. Click here to read his biography.