Tifie & Robert Workman: The Origin Story


T.i.f.i.e is an acronym
Teaching Individuals and Families Independence through Enterprise.


Tifie is a part of the Barebones origin story, and we often mention it when speaking about our mission, impact, and company ethos. To better understand our founder, Robert, we put together a history of the early days of Tifie, which helps to narrate his impact in and connection to the Congo. It is an essential part of the “why” behind starting Barebones and the projects we continue on today.


How It All Started

It was a chance meeting in China. Robert was there on a sourcing trip for Provo Craft (his first company) and happened to see a neighbor eating at the hotel breakfast buffet. They greeted each other, and his friend introduced him to the other person at the table - Phil Malua. Phil learned that Robert desired to start a non-profit and asked him point-blank to come to Congo to help his people. They continued the conversation, and Robert eventually visited him in DRC, setting the course for Tifie’s many projects and businesses.

You see, Robert was passionate about creating businesses AND jobs. His natural bent to create products came to light at Provo Craft (and subsequently at Goal Zero and Barebones). But the WHY of doing it came to fruition with the living-breathing-life organism of the business and all of the jobs that came out of it. Robert loved the sense of purpose a person had once they had a job and could provide consistently for their family. This became extremely meaningful.


“My highlight is watching what happened over time.
Not just what happens at the moment.”
- Robert


First Steps In The Congo

From there, Robert connected to many people in Kinshasa, Congo, who had ideas of how micro or macro-enterprises could help their community. At the height of microfinancing, Robert wanted to move the needle for people in poverty by providing jobs that paid wages where families could move out of survival mode. What started as small business ideas turned into actual companies: a brickmaking company, a solar company, a trucking company, and a farm. All of these worked together to create systems that supported each other and solved a problem in the community.


Two men on a tractor on one of the early farms established in the DRC.


Builders needed reliable bricks for building houses. Goal Zero engineers (Robert's company) helped design a new brick that required fewer materials and increased profitability. Tifie invested in the brick factory and hired salespeople and delivery people. At the height of the business's success, over 1000 day laborers were working each day. (Daily pay rate was ideal for the workers).

The city did not have enough food in the markets - the Dumi area farmers had the space and the knowledge to grow. With investment from Tifie, they expanded their farms and used equipment at the Dumi farm to increase food supply into the city markets. Tifie invested in the farm, hiring an agronomist, buying equipment, updating the buildings, expanding the farmable land, and starting an animal husbandry program, so the farm was entirely self-sustainable. They reforested the land along the borders, creating a natural umbrella of compost in the undergrowth. Birds and animals that had left the area because of lack of shelter and food returned.

The Dumi area farmers had the space and the knowledge to grow. With investment from Tifie, they expanded their farms and used equipment at the Dumi farm to increase food supply into the city markets


There wasn’t a reliable way to deliver the food from the farmers to the city without farmers losing significantly on their profits. Tifie invested in good quality trucks that could survive the terrible roads and variety of weather. They set up a payment system of paying the farmers upon pick up, creating more income for the farmers who were now trucking to get the brick and food to surrounding areas.



These businesses all embodied a give-back mentality in their community and adopted schools and orphanages for their employees and profits to support. On Robert’s first trip, he met a man who was trying to start an orphanage. Tifie helped him and his vision and began an orphanage. Those kids are now adults, working for some of the ongoing Tifie projects in the city.


“We just do good, to do good.” - Robert


Establishing Basic Needs

Robert and his family spent several years visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), helping to build multiple businesses.


An old photograph from one of Robert's original trips to the DRC. You can see his son and wife in the background.

Tifie started to help people provide for their families and give them the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. But the more Robert worked alongside people in survival mode because of their poverty, he realized that a job alone wasn’t the answer.

There were basic needs that needed to be consistently met to allow someone to dream about a future:

  • Access to power and light
  • Safe shelter
  • Clean water and consistent food
  • Education


    The Pivot from Businesses to Product/Funding

    Tifie realized that running businesses in DRC was not sustainable to manage and oversee. Tifie hired a GM who lived in DRC part-time, but the goal wasn’t for Tifie to run the businesses - they wanted to hand off the businesses to the local leadership team. That became the goal for the companies that were ready for it, and Tifie slowly shut down the ones that weren’t profitable.



    Tifie looked hard at the question of how to do good sustainably. How to best use resources and time - helping others with what they did well. Robert pivoted Tifie’s projects away from running businesses to funding projects around the world with money or product. Robert was highly involved with Barebones product development at this point, so Tifie leaned into relationships with products and other outdoor companies. 

    Tifie focused on the pillars of basic needs: education, food, shelter, water, and electricity, funding basic needs projects. They financially supported schools in Africa, farms in Peru and Guatemala, and sent Barebones shelters to refugee camps and disaster zones in Nepal, Mexico, Syria, Fiji, and many others. Tifie created solar power stations at schools in Ghana and Congo and sent solar flashlights to remote communities in the Arctic and Himalayan Mountains.


    Robert, Tifie, & Barebones Today

    Tifie continues to support projects all over the world with funding or through product donations. Robert is a self-proclaimed agent of positive change, continually trying to help people improve their situation in life. And through his work at Barebones and Tifie, he inspires us to consider how we can improve ourselves, our families, our community, and our world.


    Robert revisiting the farm in 2023 after helping get it started nearly 15 years ago.

    Read more about Robert Workman and
    first employee volunteer effort in the Congo

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