Ubuntu is an African philosophy that means 'I am because we are." It denotes our interconnectedness, how we depend on each other in ways big and small. To reach our full potential, both individually and as a society, we must help others achieve theirs. For over 20 years, our co-founders Jeremiah Kuria and Zane Wilemon have been committed to the people and the town of Maai Mahiu in Kenya's Rift Valley by supporting children with special needs. Today, Ubuntu Life Foundation operates as a 501(c)(3) and we as a public benefit corporation. We continue to support the Foundation as their primary impact partner. The keyway we #LiveUbuntu as an organization is through our commitment to the place where our Maker Studio is situated, Empowered Employment, and the long and lasting relationships we have with our partners.
Eleven years ago, after close to a decade of renting a small space in Maai Mahiu, we purchased a beautiful piece of land on the outskirts of town. Then a completely barren and dry area, we cultivated the ground into the beautiful green oasis where our Maker Studio is based. The same compound houses Café Ubuntu, an organic vegetable garden, medication, spring water bottling plant, and football pitch. By buying land, building on that land, and setting up multiple enterprises within, we are committed to the economic development of our town.
We currently employ 87 full-time employees and on average 30 part-time workers across all our enterprises. In our town, the two primary industries and opportunities for employment are sand harvesting and long-haul truck driving. We endeavor to create opportunities for growth with meaningful employment opportunities. Not only are we committed to paying all our staff above-average income, but we also provide health insurance for them and their families, and we are committed to their personal and professional growth. All of our employees are part of the Maker Master Program, our tailor-made employee development plan. "It is all about rewarding excellent performance and appreciating and recognizing what each person brings to the team," says the Human Resources Manager Faith Kuria. "It is a continuous performance assessment that looks at the quality of work, attitude, initiative, and drive," she goes on to explain.
The Master's Program has three levels:
Every new employee starts out as a Maker General. With on-the-job training and mentorship, each Maker General is expected to move up to the next level within their first year of employment.
Exemplary team members who excel in all areas of their work are awarded the Maker Master moniker. If a Maker is awarded this for three consecutive quarters, they become a Maker General.
This is the highest performance recognition at Ubuntu. Makers in this category are provided the training and mentorship required to join Ubuntu management. This professional development allows us to promote from within the organization.
In the decade since we started making products, we have created and cultivated mutually enriching and beneficial relationships with our key partners. By far, our most transformative partnership experience has been with the Maasai Maker Mums, who make our beaded bracelets.
In 2012, after we received significant orders for beaded bracelets from Whole Foods and American Eagle, we went from working with a handful of Maasai Mums in Maai Mahiu and surrounding communities to connecting with beaded collectives in other Maasai communities. Today we work with 800+ Maasai Maker Mums in Ngong Hills located southwest near Nairobi, in southern Kenya, on the ridge along the Great Rift Valley. It is a source of great pride for us that while Kenyan tourism took a massive economic hit during the coronavirus pandemic, we experienced a surge of orders for beaded bracelets. We provided substantial and consistent income for Maasai families.