“It’s how we do what we do that makes the difference.”
Tiffany Persons is the founder of Tiffany Company Casting, where she casts national commercial campaigns and product launches. Latham Thomas, author and founder of Mama Glow,introduced us backstage after BCBCG Max Azria’s fall show during Fashion Week. Persons is known for bringing her magnetic personality and sheer joy for living to every experience and individual she encounters. It’s no wonder I immediately felt compelled to share her story with BELLA readers.
In 2006, Persons traveled to Sierra Leone to film a documentary based on a diamond’s path from the earth all the way to the consumer. She became deeply engaged with those in the diamond mining community she lived in for three months.
“The village was hit hard by a decade-long war fueled by diamonds. The community school had been burned down by the rebels, leaving a three-room shell of a building. I was fascinated by the ritual of hundreds of students gathering there each day, eager for the opportunity to learn from one of the five volunteer teachers willing to work without pay for more than five years,”she explains.
Persons used $6,000 that she raised outside of her film budget, and with the help of her friends/film crew, borrowed a truck from the United Nations and purchased building materials and enough wood to rebuild the roof. They then cemented the floors and built new benches for the children. “This ceremonious and bonding act was the beginning of a relationship built on trust,”she recalls, “the most important component to a lasting foundation.”
Her subsequent business, Shine On Sierra Leone (SOSL), was born when she and her team realized that to effectively provide an education for a child, it couldn’t come from an economically unstable home. So, SOSL partnered with a then small micro finance institution (MFI), Salone Microfinance Trust, and began investing in micro-loans.
“We answered a call …the community wanted to learn and to work,” Persons adds.
During its eight years, SOSL has secured funding of more than $500,000, providing mostly women (80% women/20% men) with the opportunity to start or expand an existing business. The repayment has consistently been 96% or higher for the past six years. These loans have allowed thousands of people to afford their children’s school fees and to buy land and build homes. Salone Microfinance Trust is now a leading MFI in Sierra Leone due to SOSL’s fundraising efforts.
On the importance of giving back through business, Persons says, “I prefer to use the term ‘partnership.’ Because of my life-changing experience with Shine On Sierra Leone, I have grown immensely and couldn’t have done it any other way. I thank them as much as they thank me.”
Today, Muddy Lotus Primary School is an eight classroom complex with a recreation center. The school, which once ranked #736 out of 736 schools based on national aptitude test scores, proudly holds the #3 position in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone. Their adult literacy classes serve the entire Kono region; its nationwide computer literacy program has trained more than 14,000 individuals, and they’ve built the first sustainable building in Sierra Leone using the earth-bag building method. This practice is now used throughout the country. Most notably, more than 7,000 women and men have lifted themselves out of poverty.
“Our greatest achievement with SOSL is our sense of partnership. It’s how we do what we do that makes the difference.” Parsons adds.
SOSL hosts an annual“Voluntourism”trip to Sierra Leone where volunteers visit their programs and engage with the community. Learn more at ShineOnSierraLeone.org/Eco-Tourism.