Lotte Davis
Credit:  Candace Meyer

Davis supports students until they graduate and find a job

Vancouver business owner started One Girl Can to help out her native continent 

graphOriginally from South Africa, Lotte Davis co-founded AG Hair, which manufactures professional hair care products, in 1989 with her husband, John Davis, in the basement of their North Vancouver home. “I always knew that I wanted to go back to Africa,” says Davis, who had immigrated to Toronto in 1960 at the age of nine. In 2006, she sponsored 30 African girls through World Vision, but after a couple of years she wanted to start building schools and turned to Flying Doctors of East Africa (AMREF) to help her find locations.

Eventually Davis realized that she needed to start her own charity. The people she was working with didn’t share her sense of urgency, communication was poor, the bureaucracy was crippling, money was being lost, and she couldn’t get anywhere, she explains. Once she founded and began running One Girl Can the way she did her business, she saw quicker results. 

It also became clear that AG, which had been funding the schools, would never have enough money to achieve some of Davis’s goals, so she would have to fundraise externally. AG donates a percentage of every bottle it sells, and the company’s employees, salons and distributors contribute, with the latter alone donating 16 per cent of the charity’s revenue in the fiscal year ending in August 2017. 

“Once I got my licence with Revenue Canada in 2013, we started doing fundraising events downtown, and then we came up with campaigns and programs, sort of doing traditional fundraising with foundations and major donors,” Davis recalls. 

One Girl Can has built five high schools for girls in Kenya and Uganda, with two more in the works, and offers scholarships to its students. Four have graduated from university. In the 2018 fiscal year, there will be 110 girls on full university scholarships and 236 on high school scholarships. The goal is to have bestowed 1,000 scholarships by 2025. 

To compensate for the lack of role models for African girls in rural communities, every girl in grade 9 to 12 and each year of university participates in workshops and mentorship programs with successful African businesswomen. 

No one is to be left behind. “We don’t feel that we’ve become successful until she’s actually earning an income in a career-based job,” Davis stresses. “We don’t just build schools or just offer scholarships. We nurture her and make sure that every single one of the girls is successful.”

GIVING ADVICE: Davis’s suggestion to anyone thinking of starting a charity is to try to piggy­back onto another one with similar values. If you launch your own charity, she recommends running it like a business: understand marketing and social media and who your customers are, develop good programs and policies, and know how to fundraise. “Those are the things that made us successful very quickly,” Davis says.