The new Social Impact Lab team at Lynn University recently spoke with alum Kuda Biza who is building a global clothing company with a social mission alongside pursuing a successful corporate career. Kuda’s company AFR Clothing is a social enterprise that uses fashion as a vehicle for change by donating a portion of the proceeds to fund the education of vulnerable children through the Amani Hope Scholarship. Kuda is part of the Transformational Innovation Team (Ti) at Jarden Consumer Solutions where he is responsible for designing and launching innovative business models for strategic growth initiatives. Kuda was the commencement speaker for the Class of 2010 Graduation from Lynn University. He has also been a guest speaker at Harvard University and the United Nations among other global conferences.
Q) How did you decide to go to Lynn University and how did the experience influence your life?
A) There are three main things that attracted me to Lynn and made my decision easy:
1.) the international diversity of the student body. At the time, I believe about 25% of the student body was international, so I wanted to come to a school where I would build relationships with people from all over the world. I now have lifelong friendships with other Lynn alums from Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey, England, Germany, Australia, the US and so many more other countries.
2.) The location – coming from Zimbabwe, I wanted a location that had warm weather – and South Florida excels at this.
3.) The unique aviation program that allows students to take business classes –
this was a major selling point to me.
Q) Tell us about the formation of #ThisIsMyEra, AFR Clothing and the Amani Hope Foundation?
A) While studying at Lynn, I read a stat from the UN that stated 61 million children of primary-school age were not enrolled in school, and more than half of them were from sub-Saharan Africa. Immediately, I became inspired to do something about it – mainly because I had witnessed this in Zimbabwe growing up. During my senior year, the concept for AFR Clothing was born during a Skype call with a High School friend from Zimbabwe. The concept was to create a brand that makes people look good while doing good. We decided that we would donate 20% of our profits to send children in Africa to school. We didn’t have much in terms of capital to start the business; however, we didn’t let that stop us. We started AFR Clothing with $150. The brand started out with t-shirts with inspirational/positive messages like: “Spread The Love in Africa” and the brand has expanded to leggings, flip flops, hoodies, mugs and more. We focus on positive messages because we know that these messages have a powerful effect on people since they are moving billboards. We decided to use the profits to invest in education because like Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” At AFR, we are changing the world by giving the gift of education to those who do not have access to it and with this gift, they can sustain themselves and hopefully be lifted out of the cycle of poverty. AFR Clothing has led to my life-long friendship with singer/songwriter- Alexander Star. Together, Alexander and I came up with the idea to hold concerts for college students in order to bring awareness and drive sales to AFR Clothing merchandise and Alexander’s music. This then led to the performance at Millennium Campus Conference 2014 at Lynn University where we launched the #ThisIsMyEra movement and song. President Kevin Ross was there – so I would be interested to hear what he has to say about the event!
What happened after the #ThisIsMyEra launch event at Lynn was something no one had ever imagined. Since then we have taken our performance concept to 30+ schools and organizations in four countries including performances at the U.N. headquarters in NYC and Harvard. This has now led to us created the #ThisIsMyEra 90-day planner to help people stay focused and organized as they work towards making it their era. We also use the planner to make a difference. With each planner purchased, we donate a stationery kit to a child in need through our partnership with the Amani Hope Foundation.
I founded the Amani Hope Foundation so that we had a non-profit arm focused on all of our giving back ventures. It also allows us to accept donations from strategic partners.
Q) Alongside your social entrepreneurial work, you are also building a corporate career in e-commerce sales and business development strategies, how do you strike a balance between these two parallels?
A) Doing both actually brings balance to my life. Here is how I would put it: in order to get proper nutrients, a meal must be well-balanced – so you need to have your protein, your vegetables, your starch and water. If you are only eating one of the items – let’s say just protein and nothing else, you will be deficient. For me, I need to have both my social entrepreneurial work and corporate career to balance out my “meal”. Also, my corporate career at Newell Brands is an incredible learning experience for me. Working in a world-class multi-billion dollar fortune 500 company like Newell Brands allows you to grow your business acumen at an accelerated rate and you get to see the best-in-class processes. For a kid who came from the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, this is a wonderful experience.
Q) We’ve heard that you are a renowned public speaker – is this an ability that you practiced? Do you think his has been important in your career? If so, why?
A) Well – thanks to be the people that say I am renowned public speaker. Personally, I think I still have a lot of room for improvement – so I am humbled by the kind words. I have been fortunate to be mentored by great public speakers – one being Asoka Veeravagu, CEO of Revolve. Watching him speak in meetings and conferences helped me grow as a speaker. Also, when I started my corporate career after college, I took a Toastmasters class in Boca Raton. This experience was priceless as well. Nowadays, I tend to use YouTube as way to learn by watching great speakers and then essentially try to deconstruct what makes them great speakers. Do I think being a good speaker is good for your career? Absolutely – with a doubt.
Q) Has there ever been a point where you realized that you had to learn a new knowledge or skill in order to move forward? What did you do?
A) The simple to the question is yes. The way I look at it is – the skills that brought AFR Clothing or #ThisIsMyEra to where they are now will not be the same skills that will bring us to the next level. In order to go to the next level, you have to learn new skills. It’s like a football player that has just been drafted into the NFL. For them to now go and win the Super Bowl – they will need to practice and learn new plays because the ones that got them drafted will not necessarily get them to the Super Bowl.
Q) How can the Lynn University community get involved with your work?
A) #ThisIsMyEra and Alexander Star will be doing co-created songwriting session at Lynn University this coming spring, and performing as part of the celebration for the launch of the new Social Impact Lab. We will also be working closely with the Lab to consider interns for various positions and potentially for #ThisIsMyEra, AFR Clothing and Amani Hope Foundation.
Also, people can get involved in the work we are doing by purchasing any of products from AFR Clothing (www.afrclothing.com) and #ThisIsMyEra (www.ThisIsMyEra.com) or by donating to the Amani Hope Foundation (www.amani-hope.org/getinvolved). Here is a 20% off discount code (Code: LYNN20) for the #ThisIsMyEra planner that the Lynn Community can use for purchasing the #ThisIsMyEra Planner: www.ThisIsMyEra.com/planner