They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and indeed our Ladybrille Woman of the Month, Saran Kaba Jones (Saran), is a classic case of this wise saying. When you meet Saran, one of the quick things you will notice is her impeccable sense of style, her curvaceous body and overall attractiveness.
Pay closer attention to the details and you might notice her curvaceous body is adorned with high profile designer (accessories and clothing) like Hervé Léger or Nannette Lepore matched with equally sexy high heel sandals. With all of these and her appearances at high profile fashion shows and events across the country, it is easy to dismiss her as one of those fashion personalities only concerned about appearances.
However, dig a bit more and spend time getting to know Saran and you will be amazed with her intelligence, character and compassion, especially for the less privileged. She is as meticulous with her work as she is her fashion, pouring so much energy into advocacy and much needed resources for the poor.
Saran was born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia. At eight years old her family left Liberia just before the first civil war broke out. Saran is one of six children (she has three brothers and two sisters). She is also the Executive Director and Founder of Face Africa, an organization taking on the challenges of clean water, education and empowerment, among many causes in Africa. The strides and impact FACE Africa is making in such short time since its establishment, is simply remarkable.
Ladybrille Magazine is honored to kick off 2010 with Saran Kaba Jones (Saran) as our Ladybrille
Woman of the Month for January. In this indepth exclusive interview, Saran gives invaluable tips to many non-profit organizations on finance, marketing, finding the right employees and staying the course.
SARAN ON HER BACKGROUND
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Saran it is a pleasure to have you as our woman of the month. You have been pushing hard with your work at FACE Africa from its inception to its continued growth and we are excited to share your story with our readers and the world.
Saran: Thank you so much! I am honored and very excited to be featured as Ladybrille Woman of the Month.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: First Saran, tell us a bit about you. How would you describe Saran beyond obviously being gorgeous and intelligent?!
Saran: Wow, thank you for the compliments. Hmmmm, how would I describe Saran? I would describe her as someone who’s very motivated, passionate about life and also very giving. She’s extremely blessed to have come across so many wonderful opportunities that has allowed her to be where she is today in life. She strongly believes in the power of relationships, mutual respect and giving back to the less fortunate. She loves to travel, cherishes her family and close friends and enjoys watching old Samurai movies.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Where did you attend college?
Saran: I began my studies at Lesley College, a small women’s college in Cambridge, Massachusetts and transferred to Harvard University.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What does the ‘Saran Kaba’ part of your name mean?
Saran: “Saran” means Graceful Princess and “Kaba” represents the cube structure in Mecca that is the center of the Muslim world.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Ahhhhhh . . . that explains your graceful style. You live up to your name! (Smiles) Before we get into FACE Africa, you (must know) you’ve got an amazing sense of style.
Saran: Well thank you. (Smiles)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How would you describe your style?
Saran: I am such a girl when it comes to dressing up. I think women should wear items that highlight their feminine curves and shouldn’t shy away from flaunting their figures. At the same time, I also think it’s very important for women to choose clothes that fit their body types and personalities and those that accentuate their positive attributes. I personally love form fitting items and tailored looks, clothes that look like they were specifically made for me. Some of my favorite designers include Hervé Léger, Nannette Lapore, Kosibah, and Christophe Decarnin.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Speaking of Hervé Léger, you have such loyalty to the brand. When did this loyalty start?! (laughs)
Saran: Oh my (gives huge smile) I was a fan of Hervé Léger way before the brand was acquired by BCBG Max Azria and have always followed the designer and line very closely. Always wishing that one day I’d be able to wear, and afford, one. I do think Max Azria has done an amazing job in re-launching the brand and has kept true to the original look and feel of the clothing.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Now you can afford it and you look great in them! You were involved in Boston Fashion Week 2009. Tell us a bit about that and the goal of BFW?
Saran: My involvement with BFW began in 2008 actually when I was approached by my very good friend and now partner, Prajje Jean-Baptiste, who’s also an amazing young designer. We formed a company called Fashion Expose, to market and promote fashion in Boston during BFW. Fashion Expose’s mission is to provide a platform for local talented designers and attract famed ready-to-wear brands while providing Boston with a one of a kind fashion event during Boston Fashion Week.
In only its second year, Fashion Expose’s runway show has become one of the most anticipated fashion events during Boston Fashion Week. As VP, I help to run the day to day operations along with Prajje and I also help bring in top models and designers to the Fashion Expose runway show.
SARAN ON HOW IT ALL STARTED
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Okay so let’s really get into your work with FACE Africa that we at Ladybrille Magazine absolutely love. How did FACE Africa come about for you?
Saran: I have always had a passion for developmental work, and a genuine interest and personal commitment to the reconstruction process in Liberia. I, like most Africans reject the deplorable conditions in which Liberia, along with most African countries find themselves and I felt the need to do something positive to reverse the trend. In 2005, I started personally funding the education of a young boy in Liberia and helped him get through his high school years. He is now a student at the University of Liberia. This humbling experience, knowing that I was able to impact someone’s life in such a positive way by doing so little, lead to the idea of FACE Africa.
I should mention too that Bill Clinton’s book “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World” also played a huge role in me starting FACE Africa. The book highlights the extraordinary and innovative efforts being made by companies and organizations—and by individuals—to solve problems and save lives. Then it urges us to seek out what each of us, “regardless of income, available time, age, and skills,” can do to help, to give people a chance to live out their dreams. It spoke to me on so many levels because I could relate to his message of “giving” and making a difference. After reading the book, I realized I could do so much more than just help one young man get an education. I needed to do something on a larger scale, to get more people involved and impact even more lives.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Face Africa is shaping up to be something on a larger scale. What is the mission of Face Africa?
Saran: Our mission is to identify really innovative and effective nonprofit programs and solutions and help bring those programs to communities in Africa to help address some of the most critical needs.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How is the organization achieving its stated goals and mission?
Saran: One thing that is unique about FACE Africa is that we are not interested in reinventing the wheel and creating our own programs and solutions. Rather, we want to find those programs that have already been tested and proven to be effective in other developing countries, and simply replicate those programs in the communities that need them. So we achieve our goals and mission by forming partnerships with other organizations that have implemented successful programs and simply replicating those programs in communities in need.
SARAN ON THE BUSINESS OF NON-PROFITS
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That makes sense, especially for non-profits and is a nice transition into my next question. Very often for non-profits, the number one reason why they fail is lack of funding. How has FACE Africa managed to get funding and grow, especially during these hard times?
Saran: We began operating during the economic downturn when a lot of businesses and nonprofits were suffering. However, I think people understand the importance of non-profits and the necessary work they do for people and all around the world. While people are still giving, they are now being more selective on which organizations they give their monies to. So setting yourself apart from everyone else and really connecting your goals and missions with potential donors and supporters is key.
We have been able to do this as well as identify creative and nontraditional ways to fundraise. Within six months of us becoming a registered 501(c)(3), we raised close to $20,000 and were awarded a $30,000 a year Trust for 30 years from the All for Africa Palm Out Poverty Initiative. Facebook and Twitter both played a huge role in helping us win the All for Africa Trust.
SARAN ON PUBLICITY AND GOOD EMPLOYEES
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Another good segue into my next question. Publicity is also usually a stumbling block with many non-profits. A great non-profit might exist but no one really knows they do. What has FACE Africa done differently to bring media and individual attention to it?
Saran: I think for a lot of donors and supporters, the person/people behind an organization is as important as the organization itself. So it’s very important to put a “face” to the organization so that people can feel more connected. Before we registered FACE Africa as a non-profit, I spent almost two years building relationships, networking, talking about the organization and our goals and mission, and really laying the foundation for what was to come. By the time we got our IRS determination in January 2009, people already knew about FACE Africa and did not have a hard time connecting with us.
As I mentioned earlier, setting your organization apart from all the others is also very key, and of course communication. Keeping your supporters in the loop and updating them constantly with new developments, achievements, future goals etc is key.
As we all know, social media is a very powerful tool today and almost every major business, organization, and personality now have a Facebook page and/or twitter account. I personally, am very active on Facebook and twitter and understand the important role they play in connecting people with our organization and message. During the All for Africa Trust competition for example, we were going up against such notable competitors as the Batonga Foundation headed by the star power of singer Angelique Kidjo. We campaigned heavily through Facebook and Twitter to get 54% of the 80,000 votes that came in to help us win the trust.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I remember the campaign. What phenomenal results tapping into the power of social media, and established relationships.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me take you a different direction, still under the business framework. Good people (good employees) are always hard to find for any organization and the (difficulty) is compounded when it is a non-profit. Turn over rates at non-profits are quite high. What are some of the strategies you have put in place for hiring and keeping the right people?
Saran:We are still a very young and small organization and have not gone through any major hiring process yet. Our management team includes myself, Armah Kpissay, our clean water program director, a legal advisor, financial accountant and a consultant. Everyone works on a pro-bono basis. As we grow, we will be looking for people to join the organization and my goal is to recruit dedicated, diverse, and intelligent individuals who believe in our mission and would like to use their experience and expertise to support our small but growing organization.
SARAN ON PRIORITIZING AS A NON-PROFIT
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s talk about the various aspects of Face Africa. I know FACE Africa encompasses so many aspects, clean water being one. How do you choose what is priority to focus on in trying to make a difference?
Saran: There are so many challenges in Africa and everywhere you turn, there is an opportunity to make a difference. When we first launched, education was our primary focus because I strongly believed, and still do, that the most effective way to bring about positive change in Africa was to invest in the education of young children. In fact FACE stood for “Fund A Child’s Education.” After a field visit to Liberia in October 2008, I realized the huge challenges facing the Liberian population, not just in the area of education but in areas like water and sanitation, health, nutrition and so on.
The long and devastating civil war had left the country’s infrastructures in ruins – roads, buildings, health clinics, communications networks, schools, farms and factories were almost totally destroyed. With an 80% unemployment rate; extreme poverty with average earnings of $1 a day; no electricity; no running water or sewage system; and an inadequate education system, the country had enormous needs.
With this in mind, I decided to shift the focus of the organization to target not just education but also the issue of water, health and economic opportunities for women. Of all those areas, I felt access to clean water and sanitation was priority. Liberia’s population is estimated at 3.5 million. Over 3 million Liberians have no access to clean water and safe sanitation facilities. We all know the statistics: over a billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water and proper sanitation and waterborne diseases kill an estimated 3.5 million children under 5 each a year globally — more than HIV and malaria combined! The numbers in Liberia tell the same story: 1 out of 9 Liberian children die before their 5th birthday, — malaria, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia being the leading causes of death.
In 2009, we began implementing our first clean water initiative in Barnesville, Liberia. The project involved the installation of a water purification system known as Skyhydrant. Manufactured by engineering giant Siemens, the system can produce up to 20,000 liters of drinking water per day. The second part of our clean water program involves a partnership with Procter & Gamble where we will procure and distribute PUR, their point-of-use water treatment solution.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: The reality and statistics are truly always disturbing to hear. With such reality, when you visited Liberia for FACE Africa work, what was that experience like?
Saran: I took a field visit to Liberia in October 2008 and then returned again in May of 2008 to begin the clean water work. Both trips were extremely humbling and inspiring. The visit in 2008 allowed me to see first hand the challenges and needs of the country and what I felt we could do to address some of those needs. My second trip was in 2009 to begin the work on the water purification system. Seeing the project come alive was beyond inspiring. From selecting the community for the pilot project to digging the ground for the tower and installing the water purification system, the entire experience for me was like a dream come true. Knowing that the work we were doing would potentially improve the lives of hundreds of people, especially children, was so humbling. But at the same time, I also knew that this was only the beginning and that there was much more work to be done.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Indeed there remains so much work to be done and for the many nonprofits I have talked with, it can feel overwhelming at times. How long was it prior to that visit since you left the country?
Saran: I left Liberia in 1989 right before the war broke out. I went back for the first time in 2008, almost 20 years later.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Twenty years is quite a long time. . . Ladybrille readers are familiar with Liberians like Korto Momolu and Maimah Karmo. Both have quite unique stories on their families having to flee the country because of the war. Do you share a similar story?
Saran: My family also had to leave Liberia due to the war. I must say that my immediate family and I were very fortunate and did not go through some of the hardship that others did. We moved to Cote d’Ivoire, where my mother is from, and then lived Egypt, France, and Cyprus before I came to the U.S. for school.
SARAN ON THE 1ST ANNUAL FACE AFRICA GALA AT THE TAJ BOSTON
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us about your first ever upcoming FACE Africa Gala?
Saran: We are very excited about FACE Africa’s inaugural Gala! The event will commemorate United Nations World Water Day and will raise funds and also awareness of our clean water initiatives in Liberia. All funds raised during the evening will go towards the installation of multiple water purification systems and the distribution of PUR in Liberia. We plan to begin our next water purification system installation this spring at the Soul Clinic Orphanage in Monrovia.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When does it take place?
Saran: Saturday, March 20th at the Taj Boston.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Beyond having a great time, what is the Gala about?
Saran: Galas and benefits are a significant part of most non-profits’ fundraising efforts. We are looking to have an event that brings people together and raises awareness for FACE Africa and our clean water efforts, while offering the opportunity to raise money. The evening will include a cocktail reception sponsored by Grey Goose, a silent auction with some an amazing list of items, a 3-course dinner, award presentation, speaking program, music and entertainment. It is shaping up to be a great event and Ladybrille readers can get more information or purchase tickets at: http://faceafrica.org/events.htm.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Who are the anticipated guests?
Saran: We are expecting 250 – 300 people and the event is opened to the public. Anyone can purchase a ticket to attend. We are anticipating a stellar guest list of corporate and government leaders, celebrities, community members and supporters including: John Legend, Dikembe Mutombo, Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and John Kerry (D-MA), Singer/Song Writer Akon, the Liberian Ambassador to the U.S. Nathaniel Barnes, Mayor E. Denise Simmons of the City of Cambridge, Actors Forest Whitaker and Jeffery Wright, and Governor Deval Patrick among others. Peter Thum, Founder of Ethos Water and Former Vice President at Starbucks will be honored during the event for his dedication to raising awareness of the World Water Crisis.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has the preparation process been like so far?
Saran: It has been very productive so far. We have an amazing team and a host of people who have lend a lot of support. Our Host Committee has been extremely helpful and things are moving along quite well with the planning. We just partnered with Colette Phillips Communications, a full service public relations and marketing communications firm that is helping us with our marketing and PR efforts for the Gala.
SARAN ON HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH FACE AFRICA
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How can our readers help your efforts and that of FACE Africa?
Saran: There are so many ways to get involved with FACE Africa and help our efforts. One of the best ways to support FACE Africa is to spread the word and raise awareness about our vital work. Introducing FACE Africa to a foundation or corporation that might be interested in funding our work is a great way to help too. In line with that is also are matching gifts programs which is an easy way for someone to double their
Individuals can also help fundraise for FACE Africa through sponsored events, yard sales and even eBay auctions. They can also set up their own fundraising pages using sites like chipin.com or www.justgiving.com. Volunteering skills and services like photography, graphic design, and writing are all ways to help. For more information on how to get involved, please visit: http://faceafrica.org/get_involved.htm.
SARAN’S INSPIRING WORDS FOR NON-PROFIT ENTREPRENEURS
LADYBRILLEmag.com: There are many who are spearheading non-profit organizations and are right now very frustrated, share with them three key pieces of advice to inspire them?
Saran: Hang in there. It’s a very demanding line of work with lots of pressure sometimes as so many people and sometimes entire communities depend on you and your organization. But it is also a very rewarding and fulfilling field to be in and you have the potential to have such a huge impact on so many lives. For any nonprofits, development and fundraising is key so I would advise them to take a very hard look at their current development and fundraising efforts and see if any improvements can be made. Lastly, having a strong board is key for any organization and this is my current priority at FACE Africa. Building a strong board that can contribute the “3 Ws”: Wealth, Wisdom and Work.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: One last thing we know you have been a ladybrille magazine reader for a while now, what do you like most about the magazine?
Saran: I was a fan of Ladybrille when it was just a blog! It has now become this media empire that is so much more and I’m really glad to have witnessed this growth. I am a big fan of course of the Woman of the Month piece and I was proud when Maimah Karmo and Korto Momolu were featured. I happen to know both ladies and I’m such a huge fan of their work.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you Saran and congrats on being our Ladybrille Woman of the Month
Saran: Thank you Uduak and the entire Ladybrille team for the wonderful opportunity. As always, I appreciate the love and support you have shown me and hope you will continue to support us and the work that we do.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok