Tread for Change.

At The Atinga Project, we want to be completely honest and transparent in what we’re about, what we struggle through, what we overcome, and what we learn in failures. This simply reflects our core values.

We’ve been learning much about just how hard it is to “walk a mile in their shoes” throughout the throes of a social enterprise start-up in the footwear industry. It’s been quite a learning curve with regards to what is involved in manufacturing shoes… From the start, our values have set us at odds against the typical path to profits and operational norms!  But alas… this is part of the adventure, part of the purpose… and part of the goal.

Walking a mile in their shoes… is perhaps the most powerful revelation that Western institutions, charities, and modern-day consumers need at this time

Atinga exists to challenge stereotypes – the status quo – and fight both poverty and the prejudices that continue to perpetuate it across the globe. We see it locally in Buffalo, as well as in Rwanda where Atinga’s artisan-shoemakers (our partners and chief stakeholders) reside.

You may have seen our #treadforchange hashtag. Everything expressed above and in our mission is summarized with those three words; conveniently, also it relates to the three words that best describe the deep meaning of “atinga”: dignity, honor, and humility.

Recently, we’ve been faced with tough decisions. Jean, our supply chain manager in Rwanda, recovered (thankfully) last week from malaria. One of Atinga’s artisans had to move, is unreachable at this time by phone, and is likely struggling financially. Another artisan’s child has been suffering with hydrocephalus for over two years, and he has not been able to afford the medical procedure necessary to save his life.

So in the midst of making well-calculated business decisions, we are faced with the harsh realities and obstacles as described above, while running a social business internationally, without many resources at our disposal. I know now what the artisans meant in November when (at the close of this video) they cheered “turi kumwe!” in Kinyarwanda. Translated, this means “we are one”. We are certainly in this together.

And that is right where we, as a small organization promoting an audacious ideology, need to be. It’s what The Atinga Project is founded on. The simple value and conviction that we do not have all the answers. We as Westerners can come up with answers, sure. Just ask Google. Easy. …But the right answers? Not so easy. 

Big businesses and corporations continue to promote socially conscious spending and attractive marketing ploys with a focus, ultimately, on the experience and empowerment of… the consumer. Ultimately benefiting who? …the company and their bottom line. The perception is that the recipients of products or services in the developing world are the ultimate beneficiaries.

We ourselves at Atinga are not so quick to jump on or perpetuate that bandwagon without seeing data, company financials, and ultimately, the overwhelmingly affirmative word from the beneficiaries/recipients themselves. That is why our D4D business model is based on the statistics and practices of the non-profit Give Directly. We share many beliefs about the global and local poor, as well as aspiring to a methodology of measurements in order to give our customers the best form of media: the chance to hear directly from beneficiaries. Honest, transparent PR. Because our company and our suppliers are one. Without Atinga artisans, there is no business in the West. And without the West’s willingness to buck trends and walk a mile in their shoes, there is only meager local business for artisan-shoemakers and little opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.

We’ve seen first hand that Western programs and answers are often ineffective or fail completely because there is no credible, authentic walk with the recipients of aid or learning from the beneficiaries of an initiative. Ownership in their hands (or shoes) and walking together as one transforms lives and restores communities.

Walking a mile in their shoes – taking the time to selflessly and peacefully understand the perspective of “the other” – is perhaps the most powerful revelation that Western institutions, charities, and modern-day consumers need at this time in our globalized nation and world. The AP challenges you to truly take a step toward permanently implementing this revelation in your life, whatever that looks like. Take action. Tread for change.

-Chris, on behalf of the Atinga Collective

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