Republished from Impacthubsb.com Member Spotlights
She felt the legs of the plastic chair bend under her weight as she shifted down in the seat. The beads of sweat that had accumulated on her brow and skin left her feeling irritated, sticky and uncomfortable.
Thanks to the heavy humidity hanging in the air, she knew the feelings would not go away anytime soon. As she sat waiting, her tired brain grappled with annoyance over how little they cared. Couldn’t they see that she had been working her tail off for weeks to create a program that would help change their lives? Didn’t they want things to improve?
Wasn’t that the entire reason she and her team were here in the dusty, hot humidity of a Ugandan village?
Frustration and anger commingled into a bitter cocktail as the hours ticked on. Ugandans, especially those in rural areas, were known to show up late, routinely arriving long after the appointed time. But hours had passed since the community group meeting was supposed to begin, and Caleigh had the sneaking suspicion that no one was coming.
Exasperation over the past few months of hard work was steaming out of every one of her sweat-drenched pores when finally a man from the village arrived. He had come just for her. The rest of the village was attending to a more important matter: the funeral of a well-loved member of the community.
That’s when the realization hit her, and all the accumulated indignation vaporized.
Regardless of whether she or other development workers thought they knew what it was the locals needed, they didn’t know. They would never know. The only people who knew exactly what it was they needed were the people themselves.
She would never be able to do what was best for any people outside of her own. Instead, she knew she would have to defer to the community to find out what it was they needed. This realization led to the way she now runs her business, Best Foot Forward.
Best Foot Forward sells beautiful handmade leather and beaded shoes sourced from the coast of Kenya. When Caleigh first came across the shoes, she recognized the quality and beauty of the products and realized that she could sell the products in the United States.
With her experience working in development in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, Caleigh was able to find the artisans who designed and made the beautiful leather shoes. Recognizing that those making the shoes were primarily female and being paid a fair wage, and knowing that empowering females is core to community growth and poverty alleviation, she built a partnership with them and launched Best Foot Forward.
As a for-profit company, Best Foot Forward sources the beautiful handmade leather shoes from Kenya, pays a fair wage to the artisans, and sells them at a markup in order to make a profit. This fully covers her expenses. What’s more, enough is left over to create a fund that is directed back to the artisans themselves to cover needs they recognize as being most important to their communities.
Caleigh now lives in her hometown of Santa Barbara, and works out of the Impact Hub space. She spends her time developing her brand and spreading the word about the beautiful products she has to offer. Not only does her work give buyers a beautiful pair of shoes, but it also gives hope to those who make them.
Kathryn Arthur is lead host at Impact Hub Santa Barbara.