Sustainable socks help feed hundreds of Jordan’s poor

‘If you have an idea that can change someone’s life, you have a responsibility to do something with it,’ says social entrepreneur Sinan Assaid. Assaid was one of the 46 young people invited by the Netherlands to the One Young World Summit in London. He hopes it will help him expand his company, The Good Socks, which generated food support for hundreds of people in Jordan in its first 6 months. 

Sinan Assaid van The Good Socks

Smart toilets

Assaid’s journey in entrepreneurship started after he visited one too many dirty public toilets. With a group of friends he designed a smart toilet: users who keep it clean get their money back. The team’s aim was to create clean public toilets with a double lifespan. The United Nations selected the team as one of the Champions of Change for 2017. ‘But after years of work we had to admit that the concept was sustainable, but not profitable,’ Assaid says. ‘So we couldn’t make a scalable business out of it and had to stop the project due to lack of funding and infrastructure.’

A push forward

‘Of course that hurt,’ Assaid explains. ‘I’d put everything I had into the idea. At that point, my brother gave me the push I needed. He told me to learn from previous mistakes, and take off from there.’ But to work on new ideas, Assaid needed to earn money. So he came up with a product that was locally made and could be brought to market as soon as possible: socks. ‘The Good Socks started with less than 500 dollars. We used that to buy cotton and convince an old factory to use one of their machines to try out our designs. We package our socks in discarded food cans. For each pair sold, we donate food. We’ve been in the market for six months now, and have managed to produce 3,000 socks and give 700 people food support.’

Watch the end of the movie

Now Assaid wants to expand his company to produce more and other items of clothing. ‘If you have an idea that can change someone’s life, you have a responsibility,’ he says. ‘This is especially true when you start a company that other people are benefiting from. When people are relying on you, you want to and need to continue.’ His friends that were part of the S-toilet project also started other companies. ‘We became a community of social entrepreneurs. You need courage to make that happen. Putting everything you have into one idea can be scary. But playing it safe and keeping all doors open can be like watching just the first bit of 25 movies. You have nothing if you don’t watch one movie all the way to the end.’ 

Help young people afford mistakes

‘I believe that governments can play a role in creating a low-risk environment in which young people can actually implement their ideas,’ Assaid says. He was one of the speakers at the One Young World Summit in London. Before travelling there, he got to speak to foreign minister Stef Blok as part of the ‘Enterprise for Peace’ programme.

‘By providing financial resources, the Netherlands supports young people in bringing their ideas to life,’ says Assaid. ‘I hope the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to create this environment in which people can take their first steps. And make a few mistakes, like I did at first, without it costing them the money they need to feed their family.’

International conferences like the one in London help Assaid connect with colleagues from all over the world. ‘There are a lot of people there who’ve made thousands of mistakes, and I’ll like be looking for them. Although countries and problems can appear different, the roots often go back to the same issues. Together we can amplify the total effect.’ 

Blikken in The Good Socks fabriek