Spread the Tread: Honor

Recently we’ve been talking about what it means to “walk a mile in their shoes.” This is the second in our series of blog posts that explore our core vales of dignity, honor, and humility and how they intersect in our society and globally.

At The Atinga Project, we believe walking a mile in their shoes is the most powerful way to fight prejudice. While there are a lot of important components to this, we’ve been taking the time to unpack the word “Atinga” — which connotes dignity, honor, and humility towards others — in order to better understand how these values relate to “walking a mile in others’ shoes” in our daily lives.

To honor a person means “to regard or treat (someone) with respect and admiration; to show admiration for (someone or something) in a public way” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about honor is royalty. If someone with this background invited us to dinner with them, we would likely put a lot of thought into the evening. We would wear our nicest clothes, be on our best behavior, and prepare some of the things that we would say. Why put forth so much effort? If we believe that someone deserves honor, we want to make sure they feel, well… honored.

It isn’t every day, though, that a king or a queen invites you to spend time with them. However, this doesn’t mean that honor shouldn’t be a part of the way we live. In our last post, we talked about treating others with dignity. Honoring the people around us looks a lot like treating them with dignity. It means letting people know that you appreciate them, doing things that make them feel valued.

The AP takes honor seriously. As a social enterprise that aims to use business as a force for good, we want to do our best to show honor and dignity to every person we come into contact with. This past summer we rented retail space on the West Side of Buffalo and met a lot of people from many walks of life.  Whether a customer is from the other side of the globe or has lived in Buffalo all of his or her life, we’ve heard some incredible stories! It is our hope that each person walks away from our retail space feeling appreciated and valued.

Similarly, it has been our goal all along that the artisans with whom we partner are honored as well. After all, the footwear that they craft is the basis for our business, and we are representing them here in the U.S. From the very beginning, we sought to put Kigali’s best and (in their own words, most dishonored) artisan-shoemakers at the front and center of our activities. Why? Because our purpose is to show consumers in our society that helping others is not to be confined to just giving to charity. Helping others has to do with our collective actions in the marketplace too. It has to do not only with a corporate responsibility, but with a consumer responsibility — because companies ultimately respond to consumers, their customers have the daunting task of holding them accountable! If customers do not demand transparency alongside a product, there is no way to know if producers are being treated with dignity and thus honored in the production process.

We exist to educate our customers, through an incredibly unique product, that helping others is truly effective when the beneficiaries are honored for who they are as individuals, not just for the products they make. When a company does this, they are “good” — this posture is a major ingredient in the recipe for a “good” company, many of which we have increasingly witnessed grow and thrive in recent years. The “bad” industry process that pays low-wages to workers in economies with lower standards of living is a cycle driven by ill-informed corporate and consumer preference, among other blatant injustices such as prejudice and greed. But when consumers and companies choose to honor the entirety of their supply chain, they together turn that formerly desperate and damaging cycle around.

This can only occur if we start honoring the producers as much as we honor ourselves, the consumers. We will only have an effective impact when we take the time to research a brand before we buy. When our understanding precedes our action. When relating to the people who make our products change us. We want this to be loud and clear in our generation’s marketplace today: the products we buy are from companies that either honor their products’ producers and treat them with dignity, or… they don’t! There is no gray area here.

In addition to paying each artisan a fair wage for the atingas they make, our company’s model generates what we call a Dividend for Development.

We base this D4D model off of Give Directly‘s foundation-shaking work in the field of development studies and program effectiveness. Their work serves as a benchmark for both for-profit and non-profits alike, challenging organizations to measure the effectiveness of their work relative to cash — which means asking the questions, “does our work generate more impact than if we were to just donate cash directly to our beneficiaries? Do our costs to implement a program outweigh the outcomes their benefits created?” Their work not only supports the development of well thought-out initiatives to lift the poor out of poverty, but conveniently, also promotes the essential values of dignity and honor towards the poor.

This past year, 30% of our customers’ purchases went directly back into the hands of each artisan-shoemaker and their families, to be used however they choose.

Showing people that they’re valued, respected, and honored can be a challenge. It takes time that, in our fast paced lives, isn’t always easy to find. But when it’s as simple as our informing ourselves before we spend, that extra mile is worth it. So before you buy this holiday season, take a step back to consider what impact your dollar will have on the other end. Don’t be afraid to ask a company to go that mile, in the shoes of their producers. Tread for change by promoting honor.

~Co-authored by Emily and Chris, on behalf of the Atinga Collective

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