Boutique gives back to people in West Africa

Bessamba Sao, Greatness Fitness owner and former National Basketball Association player, has opened a boutique, Meant to Be Up to Me, in Farragut, using the proceeds to give back to the people of his native land, Mali, in West Africa.

Meant to Be Up to Me is a non-profit business that opened at the former Greatness Fitness location at 10931 Kingston Pike in Stonecrest Center. The boutique’s proceeds are being used to raise money for a school in Mali, he said.

Sao also owns Greatness Fitness and Arbonne, a skincare, cosmetic and health and wellness company. He opened Meant to Be Up to Me in October with his girlfriend, Heidi Kniss, and friends, who are volunteering their time in the store.

“Our goal really is to help people, but there is an old African saying that it is better to teach somebody how to fish than bring them fish every single day,” Sao said.

“It has to be up to you first.”

Sao came from Mali to the United States in August 2000.

“[For] most of the country in that area, the level of poverty is beyond imaginable. It’s scary,” he said. “It would make you very sad just to watch how life goes there and to be thankful for who you are.

“If you saw what I saw and felt what I felt, you would know why I do what I do.”

Sao was one of the fortunate young people in his country. He had gotten a full-ride academic and athletic scholarship to Knoxville College and played pro basketball with NBA. He also had played for the national team of Mali for 13 years.

On his last visit to Mali in 2011, he said it came to him that he had to do something about the conditions in that country.

“So, that’s when the idea for Meant to Be Up to Me came into action,” he said.

While Mali has organizations that help African countries, people are given handouts from those organizations.

“Most of the people who come to the world countries are usually elite people who come for acadamia and athletes, people of high standard, who could do something if they stayed there, but because of the level of poverty is so high, they need to leave to become a hope for the family who is staying behind,” he said.

Sao said, “If you look at the whole country as your family, the way to do something bigger becomes much larger.”

So, he talked to friends who own their own businesses to come up with an idea of how he can make a difference.

“We created Meant to Be Up to Me so we don’t give handouts,” Sao said.

Instead, the idea is to create an education center to teach women, children and the elderly how to be self-sufficient.

“If you want to change, it has to start with you. If you want to make your life better, it has to start with you,” he said.

To accomplish this, he is asking not just for cash donations but also donations of volunteer time and high-quality items, such as clothing and accessories, furniture, furnishings and any other item, that can be sold in the store to raise money to build the school.

“We have the land, so when we have enough money, we will build the school,” Sao said.

For more information about the boutique, visit