Manny Ohonme came to speak to the class about his organisation which manufactures and distributes biodegradable shoes to people who cannot afford them. His story is amazing and his spirit contagious. The organisation has been run on funding and is looking to change its model to be self supporting as well as improving the shoe design so that it is antimicrobial.
When asked if the organisation was taking away a business opportunity for the locals to be able to manufacture and sell shoes independently, Manny responded that Samaritan’s Feet distributes shoes in the most rural places where they are unable to afford shoes (so a local business would not be able to sell in these areas). He also noted that they are investing in local businesses and do not want to displace local companies. By building microfactories in areas where shoes are needed, some communities are now able to support their own needs. These measures are moving in the right direction and show that local capacity is being considered to an extent. Unfortunately we did not have time to further delve into this matter and discuss the details of exactly how the organisation is investing in local businesses and not displacing them.
I am in two minds about this model. Having no shoes is a huge problem that affects so many people and needs to be solved now. Building capacity and helping locals make their own shoes is a great idea but will take time and this problem is currently affecting people and needs urgent solutions. However at the same time, the organisation’s main manufacturing and distribution occurs in the US. Though there are microfactories being built, the majority of the shoes give employment to people in the US. Although this may be the easiest option for bulk production, it means that the local populations who the organisation is trying to help, is not as involved as would be ideal. Further, the environmental impact of transporting the shoes is amplified. Manny is fully aware of these issues and is working on solving them. It is such a tough situation and a convoluted problem to solve but Manny seems to understand the impacts and implications of the organisation’s actions, which makes me believe that it will evolve in a way which will be beneficial to the local communities. I think that the best option would be to focus more on microfactories and reduce manufacturing in the US as far as possible.
The class has widened my perception of social innovation as well as equipping me with tools to better understand and frame problems. I do not think we touched on the actual implementation of solutions which would have been interesting, though I understand that this could be very varied and convoluted, and the class being a mini did not allow time for this. I really enjoyed the guest speakers and learnt a lot from what they spoke to us about. I have a different perception of social innovation and better understand the importance of thoughtful, informed design, and how to work towards this.