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Empowering

by Jan-Marc Lischka (24.03.2021)

For a social business that is active in Europe-Africa trade, "empowering" sounds logical at first. For us, it took some time to formulate this value in this way. Read here why.

Because it can be misunderstood. The question we asked ourselves from the outset is: who is empowering whom? If we are honest, empowering at Manuyoo means a wild interaction between our partners, customers and ourselves. We have come to recognise that we ourselves and our European customers are the ones who are being empowered here. It may sound absurd at first, but if you turn universal truth around, it is simple.

We empower our customers to make fair purchasing decisions that are in line with our values.

None of our clients wants colonial structures back. No one would ever say "we in the global North" are worth more than "they in the global South". We are not racists - but modern, enlightened Europeans of the 21st century. Unfortunately however, we don't buy that way.

When it comes to the African continent, we often nonetheless buy as we did in colonial times: raw materials, energy and practically no processed goods, and certainly nothing of high quality or ready-to-shop.

We should all ask ourselves, are we free from racist thought patterns? Since Manuyoo was founded, we have talked to many people about our company and our motives. We have also heard comments from well-meaning individuals stating that "the problem is: there are no cool products made-in-Africa" - "first the African runners should wear Enda's shoes and show the world how proud they are of them" - "why aren't your products cheaper? Surely the people there earn very little" to questions from children "why are the people in Africa so poor that they don't have shoes?"

It shows how strongly held stereotypes and images subconsciously influence our thought patterns. There is a lot of room for empowerment and education! There is a lot of catching up to do when it comes to our knowledge of our neighbouring continent. How many countries are there? Which country lies between Benin and Ghana? What are the strengths, where is the potential? What can we learn from our neighbours?

That, too, is empowerment for us.

Empowerment also plays a big role for Manuyoo "internally". Out of deep conviction, we rely on self-organisation and working on the same footing. Every employee has the same voice when it comes to decisions. Everyone can make suggestions and influence the decision-making processes within the framework of consent (not consensus!). In this way, objections are turned into something better, something new. We are a start-up, which means we are all learning and working outside our personal comfort zones. Suddenly the lawyer is writing an article, the engineer is packing packages and the political scientist is designing the Unboxing Experience. This is what makes the common cause so appealing and gives us a strong sense of accomplishment.

Of course, empowerment is also happening in Africa through our work. But not through us. We don't want to and can't and won't presume to do that. Our partners, manufacturers and suppliers work there. They are the Changemakers. After a year of purely virtual cooperation, jointly mastering challenges and celebrating successes, we prefer to speak of them as friends. We cannot therefore wait until we finally have the chance to meet in person, face-to-face.

The Changemakers are the ones who create jobs, train employees and invest. They are the ones who build an infrastructure. They give perspective, encourage others and are shining examples. They don't need empowerment.

If you read their stories or meet them in one of our virtual formats, you will see: Freda, Navalayo, Weldon, Yvonne, Somoye, Jake, Kimberley, Priscilla and Papama - they have power without end.

They are the ones who empower us. To make the world a little bit better with our daily purchase decisions. And we are very grateful to them for that.

The authors

Published on: 24.03.2021