Little known fact: more people work in our Invisible Children Uganda offices than in our headquarters in San Diego. There are 107 staff members that man the IC ship in Uganda and two of them recently flew in for a quick visit (and by quick, we mean they flew 14,000+ miles for a 3-day visit.) Our resident interviewer (aka Social Media Assistant Carl) sat down to discuss life in Uganda, our programs, and, true to form, made them partake in a little word association.
So for all of those following along at home, what are your names and what do you do for Invisible Children?
Alyx: I’m Alyx Jones and I’m the Social Enterprise Manager at Mend in Uganda. I run the day-to-day production and operations of the center. I work to make sure the bags get to the U.S. on time, are of great quality, and work alongside Evelyn, the Mend Social Worker, on the psychosocial support and trainings the seamstresses receive.
Jared: My name is Jared White and I’m the Social Enterprise Director for Invisible Children Uganda. I provide overall direction, support, and long-term vision for Mend.
How long have you worked at IC?
Alyx: I’ve been here 6 months now; I started in June 2012.
Jared: I’ve been with IC for 7 ½ years.
Little bit of a difference there. So what’s it like for you Alyx? Is it what you expected? And what has it been like for you Jared, seeing the growth of Invisible Children?
Alyx: It’s better than I expected. I thought I would be homesick and miss a more “civilized society” in America, I guess. But I love it. The lack of infrastructure hasn’t phased me at all and the people make it feel like home.
Jared: For me it’s been crazy. I’m not surprised though because I feel like the original documentary [The Rough Cut] that kicked off the organization had the ability to inspire so many people to live for much more than their own personal interests. People started looking at their neighbors as not just the person in the building next to them, but people across the world. That idea is so powerful and has been replicated in each of IC’s films. In Uganda when we started, there were probably six of us with one table and a bicycle. It’s been crazy to see the development.
Alright, so as a kid what did you want to be when you grew up and has that in any way translated to the work you’re doing now?
Jared: That’s a really cool question, wow, ummmm…
Alyx: I can’t even remember what I wanted to be, it’s changed so many times.
Okay I’ll go first. I saw Space Jam and I was going to be Michael Jordan when I grew up.
Jared: Haha Space Jam. Dude, that’s hilarious!
Alex: I think I went through a phase where I wanted to do fashion design, even though I have zero artistic skills, but the retail portion of that definitely translates to work at Mend. And the fact that my job has the psychosocial component to it and helping these women help themselves, it’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Jared, being the motorcycle enthusiast that you are, I’m going to just guess you wanted to grow up to be Evil Knievel?
Jared: Actually, no. The one I remember most is wanting to be an illustrator for Disney. Later on that translated to wanting to make movies with my brother. And I think that might be one of the reasons why The Rough Cut captivated me so much. I was like, ‘These are three ridiculous guys who have no idea what they’re doing, and they make this awesome documentary that inspires so many people.’ But I wouldn’t say that it applies to what I’m doing now because I’m doing much more operations, hands-on stuff. Being in Gulu, Uganda, going to the workshop and interacting with the ladies making the bags, and seeing the real impact that we’re making is the best perk of the job and I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
What are some thoughts or habits that you bring back to the U.S. after being in Uganda for so long?
Alyx: I think just a renewed perspective when I hear what problems people complain about here.
Alyx: I find myself complaining less than I did before. I don’t think I’m conscious of it all the time but I’m way more thankful for what I have here. I tended to compare myself to other people and I think I’m starting to do that less.
Jared: As far as habits, the one thing people notice most would be the Ugandan-English accent that comes out from time to time. And then the eyebrow raise. Like instead of saying “yes” if someone asks a question, I’ll just raise my eyebrows like we do over there.
What are some comforts from home that you wish you could bring to Uganda? For example Chewy Cookies from Chips Ahoy. That for me is a VERY easy choice.
Jared: We got those about a year ago! Oreos too! I’d ultimately say roads like we have in the States. Life would feel SO much more comfortable. Driving to work for me is the most stressful part of my day, always thinking I’m going to hit someone, or is my car going to break? Roads, definitely.
Having so much involvement with Mend and working so closely with these women, what does this program mean to you and its impact on the community?
Alyx: I think I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of drive and ambition that these women have to provide for their families. They are so willing to learn and excel rather than just have something that gives them an income. I think it translates to them wanting to have leadership roles in their communities.
Jared: Mend is not your average IC program where you’re just trying to improve someone’s life; it’s actually like a business trying to be profitable. At the same time your priority is the welfare of the individuals and to me, that is what most businesses miss. Many of the ladies have been with us for years now and were former abductees. I don’t think they dwell on their past as much as they used to. It’s incredible to see the transformation of their spirit.
You can see how much the bags mean to those who purchase them. Why do you think the connection is so strong with this initiative above others?
Jared: You’re not just giving money to change someone’s life – you’re buying something they made. Mend raises the question of – Do you know who made your product, and do you know where it came from?
Alyx: It also manifests itself into the design. Their fingerprint is on each bag, the story of each woman is on the patch. It takes personalization to a whole new level. You can actually say, ‘This is the exact seamstress, these are the names of her kids.’ It just makes it all the more powerful.
Care to shed some light on some of the difficulties in manufacturing goods in another country such as Uganda? I’m thinking it may not be as easy as people perceive.
Alyx: Sourcing and transporting are two main things. Transport in and of itself can be a nightmare and the roads, like Jared said, are atrocious. Everything takes at least twice as long and you just have to have patience.
Jared: Doing production in northern Uganda is a constant uphill battle. Everything is much more difficult than in the U.S. and in some ways, it can be what makes it adventurous but it can also be frustrating like, “Why does it take this long to get thread, or why does this not even exist in the country?” You have to balance the welfare of the individual with running a social enterprise. It can get tricky in a different country.
Time for my favorite part of the interview where we’re going to do a little word association. I’m going to need Jared to step outside really quick so he can’t hear Alyx’s answers.
Jared: No problem
Okay, Alyx rapid fire.
Mend? The women
Radio Tower? Tall
Boda Boda (Motorbike taxi)? Scary!
Mosquito Net? Holes
Jared? Great, of course
Celebrity Crush? Matthew McConaughey
Alright, time for Jared to take the hotseat. No pausing.
Radio Tower? Loud
Boda Boda? Unsafe
Mosquito Net? Necessary
Juan-David (the product designer at IC)? Two names
So much for working closely together!
Seamstress? Laker Irene
Celebrity Crush? Zoe Saldana
Recovery? aaaaaaand Beyonce
Ha perfect. We’ll try that again. Recovery? Plan
2012 was such an incredible, crazy, hectic, unreal year. What are things you’re most looking forward to in 2013?
Alyx: I think I’m excited for what Mend is working towards. Both through a standardized set of processes to improve manufacturing and what we hope to achieve through our psychosocial programming.
Jared: For me, first and foremost, seeing Joseph Kony get captured. Hands down. For Mend, I’m looking forward to improving our programming for the ladies based on what their needs are. And I’m really excited about the new products. We have a couple designs coming out that are very inspiring to me. And I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that Messenger bag and start using it.
We’ll be on the lookout for the new stuff! Thank you for sitting down with me, it’s so great to see you back here. Next time hopefully we can work it out to where I’ll meet you at your office.
Jared: You bet.