When I heard Lotte Davis speak on a women in philanthropy panel, I couldn’t help but be struck with her incredible authentic energy about the work she is doing to educate girls and women in Africa. Her warmth, kindness and genuine concern for the inequality that exists a world away from Vancouver made me both respect and like her – immediately.
Davis, CEO of AG Hair, is a South African-born firecracker who has an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to make positive change like no other. She begun AG Hair with her husband, John, out of their basement, and now their products can be found in salons and stores worldwide. Their products are salt, paba, parabens, gluten and DEA free, and locally made in Burnaby. And the best part – proceeds from each and every product go to supporting education for girls and women in Africa, through Women Leading Change.
Women Leading Change was founded by Davis in an effort to use education to empower girls in some of the poorest regions of Africa. Did you know that 75 per cent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa have never been enrolled in school? Davis frequently travels to Africa to both build and rebuild schools and fund scholarships for girls as they transition from high school to college and university. One hundred per cent of donations are put into action as AG Hair absorbs all the administrative and marketing costs.
To learn more about Women Leading Change, check out their projects here and how you can get involved.
What does philanthropy mean to you?
This actually became one of the believe statements for our business – giving back is the reward for our success. I really believe that once you’ve achieved enough income for you and your family to live comfortably, you should start giving some of the excess away to causes you believe in.
Why is giving back to important to you?
All of us are exposed to certain inequities as we grow into adults that shape who we become. I grew up in Africa and witnessed blatant racial injustice that I couldn’t reconcile as a child, and when I moved to Canada I became aware of another inequality. This time, women were focus of discrimination. Being able to provide opportunities for women in Africa is a dream come true for me. Two wrongs that I had always wanted to make right somehow came together and gave me a chance to make a small difference and feel like I didn’t have to be a bystander.
Do you have a philanthropic mentor?
I had never known anyone in philanthropy or indeed been exposed to philanthropy until much later in my life, and even then it seemed to be the domain of the extremely rich. Now, so many ordinary people are doing extraordinary things both at home and abroad. Many brands are now setting an example by embracing a cause and committing big budgets to helping others live better lives. The next generation has the good fortune of being surrounded by the best kind of mentors – those who are actively involved in giving back as an integral part of their daily routine.
What is your proudest philanthropic achievement?
My proudest achievement is that moment when you realize that you have the capacity to change someone’s entire life with the smallest gesture or contribution, and then to know you’re able to do this again and again. There isn’t one enormous heroic accomplishment, just many individual and very personal instances that you’ve engineered to be in the right place to be able to say, “I can do that for you.” There is no bigger privilege or joy.
What is your happy place?
I love nurturing and mentoring girls. I’m at my happiest when instilling confidence and coaching them to be everything they can be. This can be with my own two daughters or with the many surrogate daughters I’m supporting in our schools in Africa, and that makes me very proud when they refer to me as a second mama.
What is one way people can be kinder everyday?
Take the time to ask at least only one person every day about him or herself, and stop to really listen to them without saying anything about you. Few people, including myself, know how to listen in today’s hectic environment, and it’s the one thing that really makes someone feel like you care. I feel like it’s a gift when someone asks me a question and really listens to my answer intently without any thought of getting equal time. I would like to be able to do more of that myself.