Fifteen years ago Bavarian born STEPHANIE FERRARIO set up the non-profit-organisation GIVE A FUTURE in Addis Ababa. The charity runs homes for orphans, funds scholarships for high achieving students, provides vocational training for unemployed youths and has a hugely successful micro-finance programme for women. Stephanie lives in Sussex with her husband Matteo and their three children.
STIL: When did you first visit Africa?
SF: We had family in Kenya and so I started going when I was a small child and was deeply marked by its beauty and people from an early age.
STIL: What inspired you to found GIVE A FUTURE?
SF: I wanted to adopt a child over 15 years ago and ended up in Addis Ababa, as Ethiopia had one of the worst orphan crises in the world at that stage. I went with my friend Stefania to research the adoption process and assess the situation. We came across a small orphanage/home for street children with 20 very small children, which we started to support, and it grew from there into a bigger programme over the years.
STIL: As we’ve mentioned in our introduction, your charity GIVE A FUTURE has, at the heart of it’s programme, the schools and orphanages; it also funds scholarships and offers vocational training for bright young people who would otherwise have no opportunity to further their education, in addition it offers whole programmes of micro-financing to women to help them build small businesses. And now, alongside the charity, there’s the Lalibella shop and online business. This is huge! Did you have a long-term vision or did your initial idea just snowball?
SF: Yes, starting with the support of the orphanage where the team was - and is – amazing, it then grew organically over the years into a bigger development project which is now, in 2019, offering scholarships to 200 high achieving children at private schools and universities in Ethiopia and internationally. We still have 40 orphans in 3 different group homes and a micro-finance programme for well over 1000 women with a new fund about to launch in 2019 for another microfinance group for women.
STIL: It must be difficult deciding who the charity can support; how do you choose who will benefit?
SF: Yes that is indeed difficult and its never enough. During my recent trip of last week we had so many more applications than places, it is heart breaking so often, but you need to assess funds realistically and do what you can in order to benefit as many people as possible given your mission and ethos. Even if you help just one person, it is SO worth it. We have decided in 2018 to cut down the programmes slightly and to concentrate on high achieving students and women, so we will expand our programmes in those directions for the next 5 years.
STIL: Do you feel welcomed by the locals?
SF: Absolutely, I have been going there for 15 years and feel very much at home. Ethiopians are an amazing people, warm hearted, wise, self confident, hard working, kind, open and investing money into children and women has proven to be very successful.
STIL: You must meet obstacles running a charity in Ethiopia when dealing with local authorities and business practices? Do you find the authorities to be a help or a hindrance?
SF: They can be incredibly helpful and at other times also frustrating to deal with. In general we have now after 15 years of working there, a very nice working relationship with the government and are incredibly bullish and hopeful for the future of Ethiopia.
STIL: East Africa has a long tradition of ‘Harambee’, which is a wonderful kind of community-based charity. Do you find this Harambee spirit flows into GIVE A FUTURE’s endeavours?
SF: Ethiopia is very different to its neighbouring countries, but yes the general community spirit is helpful and beautiful especially when running non for profit programmes. We could not manage the projects as well as we do without the incredible commitment and dedication of all our local team that go above and beyond their jobs to make sure everybody in our programmes is successful.
STIL: Can you talk us through a typical day in Addis Ababa?
SF: Addis Ababa is a very busy city that is developing at the speed of lightening and a day starts early. There are building sites literally everywhere and between roads, trains, office buildings, hotels and new residential properties the city gets very congested and it takes a while to get around. A very nifty minibus system takes most people around the city and you can jump on and off easily from the minibuses. When we visit we usually go to our office in the mornings and do some meetings about admin issues, discuss any managerial issues or talk to different people in the team to understand the progress of scholarship students or issues any programme might have where we need to adjust our strategy. Then we usually go out and visit scholarship children in private schools all around Addis Ababa. We profile them, update the files, go to any award ceremonies where they win a prize, attend their graduation ceremonies etc and talk to the schools about their progress. After that we meet a potential donor or team member for a lunch of local injera and shiro ( flatbread and chickpea stew ) at a café set up by women from our Microfinance programme. Then we visit women from our MFI programme to understand their successes and challenges. Towards 5pm we make our way to one of our homes and spend the late afternoon and evening with our orphans.
STIL: GIVE A FUTURE'S online shop Lalibella has the most beautiful Home and Lifestyle products. How do you source these and are they all from Ethiopia?
SF: All of Lalibella’s products are made in Africa and all of its profits go back to GIVE A FUTURE. We source the products from many different countries all over Africa. We produce quite a lot of products ourselves in Ethiopia, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and we also buy in beautiful products made by designers and artisans that are perfect the way they are. We source ethically produced luxury fashion and home accessories mostly handmade by artisans. We find them by travelling around and finding artisans and we also get approached by them directly or introduced by existing artisans.
STIL: You have recently opened your first Lalibella store in Notting Hill. Will there be others, or is the online store essentially the 'Flagship'?
SF: We are planning a pop up in New York this summer and hope to open more shops in the future.
STIL: What is your main motivation for GIVE A FUTURE?
SF: I have seen that supporting others and making a life altering change is not rocket science. I feel a social responsibility and deep love for other people, mainly children and women. I am interested in people and love finding solutions.
STIL: What are your plans for the future of both GIVE A FUTURE and Lalibella?
SF: We will try and continue pushing our scholarship fund and microfinance programme in Ethiopia, stay up to date, change with the local development to stay relevant and would like to expand to a scholarship fund in the UK as well. Education is the strongest weapon with which to fight inequality and as the divide between rich and poor is ever widening we would like to make a contribution also in this country.
STIL: Stephanie, you have three children, three dogs and three horses; GIVE A FUTURE splits your time between Africa, London and Sussex. How do you balance your work and family life?
SF: This is such a difficult question and so relevant to so many women and mothers - we try our best, is the answer I think. I have a saint of a husband and two amazing ‘work wives’ or business partners who rock my world. I need to be very organised to plan my weeks, my travels and I have help at home to wing it all. I am passionate about my animals, children and work, all things I choose to do and would never give up, so I squeeze it all in but sometimes something has to give.
STIL: Have you taken your children to Addis Ababa and how important is it for you that they are aware of the depth and extent of your work?
SF: Of course I have, they all play a part in this and it is a way of life rather than just a job. My children get so much out of these experiences and will hopefully be more aware how important it is to help others less fortunate and to have a passion for people, ideas, projects and life in general. We often have scholarship students staying with us, coming on holidays with us and this opens our family up to many other benefits, which is sometimes not so straight forward but generally is so enriching.
STIL: If by any chance you have time to read, do you have a book on the go at the moment? And do you have a favourite book of all time?
SF: I am a real book worm and read a lot. Right now I just finished “Prisoners of Geography” which I loved, and will now go on to “21 lessons in the 21st century.” I love all kinds of books, from silly novels to really good books, books that teach you something like books about child psychology, health, development economics, and other topics. I also listen to audiobooks a lot in the car and bring my kindle everywhere. My favourite book of all time is “Cutting for Stone” a book about Ethiopia.
STIL: Stephanie, you look immaculate at all times be it in Africa or Sussex; can you share with us a style tip or two especially for women who work, travel or lead very busy lives?
SF: I combine simple but luxurious basics with textured pieces or wild patterns, add some African jewellery and funky but comfortable shoes - that’s my style. Great fitting jeans, cool T-Shirts, classic or funky blazers and either interesting trainers or boots with a textured coat. I always carry one of our Ethiopian scarves with me.
I like a rock and roll feel, something different, many black and white, grey and brown tones, a splash of colour every now and then and anything with interesting patterns. I don’t wear many skirts but love dresses and combine them with flat shoes and a jean or leather jacket. I love your shop, you know that, and love buying simple but luxurious basics to throw together with what I have. I want to buy less and buy well.
I like beautiful and interesting things and keep absolutely everything. I am a hoarder.
We produce many accessories including handbags, jewellery, scarves, dresses, summer beach things etc and have it easy in always having a big choice of accessories to choose from.
Thank you so much Stephanie – it’s been wonderful and most inspiring talking with you. You remind us that being active in showing kindness, generosity and understanding to others makes the world a better place and all of us better people.