Social Enterprise Spotlight: Just Markets For Ghana?s Women

Monday, August 8, 2011

Three years ago Danielle Grace Warren had gone fishing. She was part of a mission to build fish farms in Ghana. These farms, it was hoped, would help generate badly needed income and jobs. The literally graceful and ballerina-like Warren, a creative writer, knew from her experience in Haiti where she had worked on economic development projects that income and jobs were the key to lifting the Ghanaians out of poverty. But they needed to be lots of income and jobs. That simply wasn’t possible through one industry.

But what other industry could Ghanaians create opportunity out of? Shea butter.

During her time in Ghana, Warren stumbled upon women who collect the fallen nuts from the shea tree, indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa. Shea nuts are the key ingredient in shea butter, the coveted substance in high-end cosmetics and moisturizers. It is a valuable product, worth nearly USD 30 million dollars in Ghana. Except the women she met reaped little of this value. In fact, Warren saw a great imbalance in the cost-benefit ratio in Ghana’s shea nut trade. Much of it had to do with snakebites.

To earn additional income to cover their children’s school fees and expenses, Ghanaian women rise before dawn to collect fallen shea nuts. That is the only time they’re able to do so, before setting out for a day that includes farming in the fields, cooking and cleaning. Because it is the only time, vipers and mambas, very much awake and alert, frequently bite these women. Thirty thousand are bitten each year. These bites range in severity, from debilitation to death.

Ending that debilitation and death is what prompted Warren to become the social entrepreneur behind Just Shea. Just Shea is a social enterprise aimed to leverage safety of the 600,000 women in Ghana who collect and trade shea nuts. It also plans to increase their revenues and profits.

Beyond snakebites, Warren found that the women that harvest shea nuts lack the business skills and savvy to sell their products. “I’d watch woman after woman sitting by the side of the road waiting for a nut dealer during the harvest season (May to August),” says Warren.

Sometimes the dealers wouldn’t come. Because the women had nowhere to store the nuts, they went to waste. When the dealers did come, because the women lacked knowledge about pricing, they’d receive about one-forth of the local market price. Dealers would take advantage of the fact the women didn’t have storage facilities and efficient supply lines to guarantee continuous product. “The supply chain is inefficient because the harvesters lack collective storage silos to help establish consistent supply lines and points of sale,” says Warren on her website. Hence, while dealers and global cosmetic manufacturers collect on the shea nut boom, African women get shortchanged. “I had to change that,” says Warren.

Just Shea is the change she hopes will improve the safety of women collecting shea nuts and develop supply and storage links in order to boost returns. It has two funding models: non- and for-profit. That is what caught the attention of the Pipeline Fellowship.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

Agriculture, Health Care