In 2003, the same year as the company’s founding, Balega, now a leader in run and outdoor specialty socks, founded the Lesedi Project Fund, the company’s official nonprofit charity foundation. Lesedi is a Zulu word meaning “light and enlightenment.”
Balega’s entire product line is made at its South African production facility in Cape Town, utilizing the best performance yarns produced in the U.S. in a unique cross-cultural initiative. Crafted for fit and comfort, Balega is committed to technical excellence, quality and performance. Its retail customers are serviced through their distribution center in Hickory, NC.
Initially, The Lesedi Project started with the Ethembeni School for the physically disabled and visually impaired in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, but today all of Balega’s charity actions and proceeds are run through The Lesedi Project, providing the ability for people to split funds and donate to more than one fund, or to change funds from year to year.
Balega’s charity work aims to make a difference in the lives of many. The company’s acts of charitable giving illustrate their South African “Unbuntu” belief – meaning, we can only be, through others around us. According to Balega vice president of sales and marketing Tanya Pictor, “It is our passion and absolute need, to live it every day.”
The fund has supported global projects, beginning with ongoing scholarships (originally 10, now increased to 12 annually), donating funds and equipment at the Ethembeni School. Education tops Balega’s charitable efforts and The Lesedi Project offers education and life skills training to more than 300 impoverished and disabled kids. The Lesedi Project raises funds for the school by organizing fun runs through U.S. retail partners such as Fleet Feet Sports, and through sales of students’ commissioned beadwork.
A key vendor partner of Fleet Feet Sports, Balega has been a partner with the retail chain to support The Lesedi Project dating back to a 2005 annual Fleet Feet Conference. “Bert [Pictor, Balega CEO] asked us if we’d like to be involved in the Lesedi Project, and we were eager to help out, and donated money for an outdoor rehabilitative play gym,” said Luke Rowe, senior vice president – franchise support and development of Fleet Feet. “We’ve been very involved over the years, establishing a trust fund, donating money to buy them a school bus…this is a desperately poor region, so it’s very worthwhile.”
Rowe said Fleet Feet has taken the Balega model and formalized it for use in its charitable efforts. At the most recent Fleet Feet Conference in June, the company gave 12 grants totaling nearly $30,000 through a competitive application process its stores participate in each year to help raise money for local charities. “All of this was Balega inspired,” said Rowe. “It’s been so many years now, I’m not sure everyone remembers the origin of that, but that’s where it came from.”
“It’s always been at the core of Balega to give back,” continued Rowe. “We were there at their birth and we’re excited about their transition. They’ve always been a good partner and they’re good people. We’ve learned a lot from them.”
Balega also gives back within the U.S., with sale proceeds supporting the 501(c)(3) Veterans in Need, and donations to the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) alongside a collection of limited edition “Words of Grit and Grace” pink support socks. Balega donated one dollar per pair sold to the BCF, which works to eliminate cancer risks through public policy and education on the link between chemical exposure and breast cancer. Balega aimed to double its donation last year.
“The Breast Cancer Fund supports so many issues that Balega stands for and feels passionate about,” said Tanya Pictor. “Beyond everything, what I love most about the cause it that they are proactive – they believe in getting out there and making a difference, step by step. If we as a collective do a little bit together every day, imagine how powerful the outcome would be?”
In November 2014, Balega supported Veteran’s Day by launching its Enduro Physical Training sock. A portion of each sale (50 cents per unit) went to Homes for our Troops, a privately funded NFP dedicated to building handicap adapted, mortgage-free homes for injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 190 specialty homes have been built as of June 16, 2015.
“When we founded Balega in 2003, we decided that we wanted to share the blessing of success with those less fortunate,” said Bert Pictor, Balega CEO. “Every day our men and women in uniform are exposed to risk so that we can enjoy the freedom and safety we all sometimes take for granted. In some small way we are trying to make a difference by giving back to Homes for our Troops.” Last year Balega supported SoldierSocks and the Catawba County United Way. During the 2014 winter season, Balega donated 5,000 pairs of socks to SoldierSocks, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to serving the men and women who are or have recently served in the U.S. Armed Forces, with simple, yet essential items… like socks.
At Balega’s headquarters in Hickory, NC, the brand committed to donate 500 pairs of socks to the Catawba County United Way to assist with the Point in Time Count for homeless people living in that region of North Carolina. Point in Time Count serves as the primary source of data locally and nationally to understand homelessness trends and to track progress on efforts to prevent and end homelessness for all communities.
And the list continues to expand as Balega seeks other projects and organizations to support. At the end of 2014, the company added Back on My Feet – Chicago, which works to motivate homeless men and women to work their way back into jobs and homes by setting and achieving running goals. Balega outfits 11 chapters of the organization nationally.
As Pictor said, “It is our passion and absolute need, to live it every day.”