Category Archives: just shea

just shea: harvesting a new reality

*published on september 29, 2014 in ABC Home

by Julia Sweeney

Despite possessing a resume that includes experience as an editor, experimental theater producer, and Wall Street stockbroker, Wicki Boyle felt inspired to begin a new career in her late 50s — in Africa, no less. What would be seen as a daunting challenge for many is an exciting opportunity for Boyle, a woman who relishes in adventures in the unknown (her time spent writing for National Geographic is quite literally an example of this).

Boyle is the co-founder of Just Shea, a social business focused on empowering women shea collectors and harvesters in Northern Ghana through the sale of shea-based cosmetics. Just Shea products – lusciously soft salves for feet, hands, face, and lips created from Ghanaian shea butter – are now available both online and in-store in ABC Home. After discussing her life, career, and Just Shea recently, we part ways — but not before she proffers a genuine hug. An appropriate gesture, perhaps: Boyle’s ability to embrace the new with open arms is truly special.

Wickham-BoyleImage of Wicki Boyle, Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times

Boyle met Just Shea’s founder, Danielle Grace Warren, through The Op-Ed Project (a movement to increase the number of women thought leaders in key international commentary forums). They became friends – frankly, we can’t imagine not finding Boyle instantly companionable – and when Warren informed Boyle she was headed to Ghana, a deeper connection was forged.

Warren would eventually establish the One Village Planet-Women’s Development Initiative, a humanitarian organization focused on sustainable development projects for women in Haiti and Ghana (the profits of Just Shea are channeled to their shea-related activities in Ghana). Boyle, knowing very little about what Warren would actually end up doing, nevertheless felt compelled to get involved. She says, “I wrote her basically just saying, ‘I love Ghana. Can I help?’”

danielleDanielle Grace Warren, right

Eventually, Just Shea was born, a company that is capitalizing on a tremendously underutilized industry while enabling women entrepreneurs to establish true, viable businesses. In Africa, shea is known as “womenʼs gold”: Nut collection and processing are designated women’s work. More than 600,000 women collect shea nuts in Ghana, with the industry benefiting more than 2 million individuals (particularly because women tend to reinvest their profits back into their families and communities). Moreover, shea’s rising popularity – it’s seemingly laced in every single cream on the market today – makes it a sector for real growth. Yet over 25% of shea nuts harvested from Ghana’s trees are neither sold nor processed domestically; 60% of the available shea nuts go uncollected.

Just-Shea-1

This is largely due to the challenges the women shea nut collectors face, obstacles Warren witnessed firsthand. Boyle explains, “She was seeing that women collecting shea nuts – because it is a women’s job, men will not pick up anything off of the ground – are being bitten by poisonous snakes and scorpions. They don’t have any gear to protect their exposed hands, feet, or faces.” Moreover, as shea collecting often happens at night – so as to not interfere with their daytime responsibilities – they are forced to do so almost entirely in the dark, thus crippling efficiencies.

Based off of the concept of hands, feet, and faces (articulated in their products) Just Shea provides the simple tools these women need to be successful: Boots for the feet, gloves for their hands, and hats for their heads. Boyle remarks, “I like that our company very clearly tells you what we’re doing, but not in this longwinded way. You can literally see the connection.”

Just-Shea-2

Aside from this gathering gear, the profits for Just Shea help fund other critical logistical elements, such as solar-powered flashlights and silos to store the nuts, allowing collectors to aggregate the crop and sell it year-round (hitherto, many would abandon nuts that they were unable to store). Boyle and Warren have also launched an interest-free loan initiative, which enables women to take out money against a bag of collected shea nuts. This cash advance at the onset of the harvest season means they can hold onto their crop investments and sell during opportune market fluctuations.

While empowering women is rewarding for Boyle, creating a truly outstanding product is equally exciting. She comments, “We know that we have to make it twice as good as the next product, because people will not buy something just because it has a backstory — it has to be great.” Their shea butter formula, developed by a New York-based chemist, feels nothing like the heavy, often-sticky products we’ve encountered in the past. It glides on smooth and light, a refreshing — and new — articulation.

So, much like Boyle and the many women of entrepreneurs Just Shea, shea butter has taken on a new lease in life — one that feels very, very good. Shop Just Shea, below.

Just-Shea-_ just shea hand salve; $40 | just shea lip salve; $20 | just shea face salve; $55 | just shea foot salve; $40

 All images except top via Just Shea 

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Partnerships That Blend the Skills of Two Generations

*published on 17 May 2014 in the NYT by Marci Alboher

Wickham Boyle, 63, the vice president of Just Shea, and the company’s 31-year-old president are the driving force behind a business whose profits go to a related nonprofit, which helps protect women who harvest shea nuts. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

IN her late 50s, Wickham Boyle left her job as an editor to pursue a project she was passionate about, producing an opera about 9/11 based on a book she wrote. A few months later, when she was ready to go back to work, she discovered it wasn’t so easy to find her next gig. “Our play closed on the day Lehman crashed, and my world dissolved,” she said, recalling the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

But then she met Danielle Grace Warren, who, at 25, was involved in a project to improve conditions and business prospects for the 600,000 women in Ghana who work in the global trade of cosmetics and cooking products made from the nut of the shea tree.

The two discovered they were a perfect team, despite the differences in their ages. Four years later, Ms. Boyle, now 63 and vice president, and Ms. Warren, 31 and president, are the driving force behind Just Shea, a for-profit social business based in New York that markets shea products. The profits go to a related nonprofit, which provides, among other things, equipment to protect women who harvest shea nuts from snake bites, and microloans secured by crops stored in a cooperative silo.

Danielle Grace Warren has said that working alongside someone twice her age feels natural. Credit Dan Warren

They also defy the persistent stereotype about younger and older people battling over jobs in the still-shaky economy.

When these multigenerational ventures succeed, if is often because of the different sets of skills and perspectives that an older and younger person can bring to solving a problem.

Lara Galinsky, senior vice president of Echoing Green, which provides seed funding to emerging social entrepreneurs, says she frequently sees such partnerships. Though the average age of their applicants is 29 to 32, she explained, “When you unpeel the layers, there’s often someone older who’s been guiding them in a mentor role or as part of the founding team.”

According to Nancy Henkin, executive director of Temple University’s Intergenerational Center, this kind of working and thinking can be applied in ways that even go beyond a specific venture or project. “How do you build communities that are welcoming for people of all ages, and how do you engage people of all ages in a collective effort to make the community a good place for growing up and growing older?” she said. “Instead of a senior and a youth center, why not a vibrant community center where people come together and intentionally foster trust, empathy and interaction?”

Ms. Boyle said she felt an immediate connection to Ms. Warren and her project. She grew up traveling often to Ghana and other parts of West Africa and had spent most of her career in the nonprofit sector. Initially, she volunteered her time, making introductions to her network of contacts. After about six months, the two secured an angel investment from a family friend of Ms. Warren’s, which turned their cause into a venture. The two are paid the same salary, which rises and falls based on how fund-raising is going.

The company’s products are sold in stores like ABC Home and through the Just Shea website. Though the venture is gaining traction, Ms. Boyle still takes on outside freelancing work. “I do worry constantly about paying the bills, but I’ve had an incredibly interesting chock-a-block full life,” she said. “And I do have this loft, which is my pension, 401(k) and I.R.A. It’s a sadness, but at some point I will have to move out of the loft so that its sale will care for an old me.”

Ms. Warren says working alongside someone twice her age feels natural. She learned about being an entrepreneur from her father, who has run a series of small businesses, including a tropical flower farm in Florida and reforestation project in Haiti. When she was in college, her father invited her to Haiti to help develop an idea he had for a women’s resource center, to provide classes in sewing and other skills and information about health and nutrition. Ms. Warren’s family wasn’t rich, but playing this kind of role was a part of her upbringing. Ms. Boyle feels a similar comfort in the team. Her daughter is the same age as Ms. Warren.

When Ms. Boyle and Ms. Warren describe their respective contributions, they explain how their ages and life stages complement one another. They use Ms. Boyle’s loft as an office and meeting space, even as a place to hold fund-raising events. “I also have tons of contacts from a life lived across careers,” Ms. Boyle says. She found a chemist who turned the raw shea into a marketable product, for example. Ms. Warren, by contrast, has relationships with funders of organizations like theirs and with others working on similar globally oriented social ventures. With no children tying her to the United States, she can travel to Ghana for long periods of time to focus on local fund-raising opportunities and to work with their employee on the ground. “We share like mad,” Ms. Boyle said.

Housecalls for the Homebound, another venture led by people of different generations, is a medical practice serving geriatric patients in Brooklyn and Queens. It began four years ago because of conversations at a family dinner table. Daniel Stokar, now 26, was preparing to graduate from college. His grandfather, Samuel Lupin, now 75, was talking about retiring after more than 40 years as a physician. Most of his patients had aged along with him. Over time, he dedicated more of his practice to house calls, so his less mobile patients would not have to travel to doctor’s appointments. “This was an example of a glaring medical need not being met by very many doctors,” Dr. Lupin said.

Mr. Stokar proposed bringing on some younger physicians and medical staff and training them in Dr. Lupin’s approach to care. “When Daniel talked about ‘taking my practice to scale,’ so that we could help hundreds, perhaps thousands more patients, I had never even heard that phrase,” Dr. Lupin said. “That’s not a term my generation used.”

Each family member has a well-defined role. Dr. Lupin interviews and hires other doctors, and serves as a mentor to them. Daniel Stokar runs the business of office. And Daniel’s father, Avi Stokar, who is a software engineer and computer programmer, is the resident technology expert. He created the electronic medical system used by the practice to track patient data during the house call visits.

“It’s a real blend of the old and the new,” Dr. Lupin said. “What we are doing medically — the actual rendering of bedside care — is very old. But every other aspect of the delivery is modernized.”

Since its start (originally as Brooklyn Housecalls), Housecalls for the Homebound has brought on six additional doctors and a nurse practitioner and has provided care to about 800 patients. They have a model that provides doctors with a competitive salary, without requiring them to run a back office or do hospital rounds. And they are proud that they have been able to deliver good care at a low cost. “If we needed to, we could visit a patient in this category even weekly, for an entire year, for less than it costs in New York for a single hospitalization,” Dr. Lupin said. The group also provides consulting services to hospitals and other practices that want to emulate their model.

Two years ago, Dr. Lupin stopped going out on house calls, maintaining his role in managing the medical staff and consulting on difficult cases. On average, he says he is working about 15 to 20 hours a week. After 50 years practicing medicine, Dr. Lupin says this work is the most gratifying of his career. And he hopes it will be his legacy. “I can’t pass on my medical slot to my son-in-law and grandson, but I can pass on the project.”

Purchase With A Purpose

*published on Compathos

Even in a recession we all still want to give a trinket or something snuggly to those we love. How much better if these tokens of esteem and adoration also come with a helping hand to those less fortunate, but oh so talented.

Sometimes it is difficult to know if artisans and artists have been treated fairly, paid a good wage and work in safe conditions. But many producers have donned the mantle of doing well and doing good simultaneously and they are offering an array of wonderful gifts which can be purchased on the internet for the holidays. Or be smart and keep this handy guide for birthdays, weddings, Valentines Day or Mom’s and Dad’s Day.

JUST SHEA

Full disclosure here, I am one of the founders of this amazing company. I say that with pride as these high-end skin creams are made from the finest safely harvested, fair-trade shea butter. The women in Northern Ghana are the only ones who gather shea nuts, as shea is a self-sustaining crop harvested from the ground and hence the men consider it trash, and thus women’s work. The women use the money they garner from gathering shea to pay school fees for their children, often their daughters who are less often allowed to go to school than their brothers.

The women literally risk their lives gathering the shea nuts as black mombas and vipers abound and they have no protective gear. JUST SHEA was founded to provide women with hats, boots and gloves to protect against snakebites. JUST SHEA pays for this gear by selling high-end creams created to protect Western women’s face, hands and feet. It is a simple elegant solution for one set of women to help another.

All the products are available individually at http://www.justshea.com Each $55
And sets are available at the wonderful site AHA Life, which also offers other products that give back. Set of three $148

12 Small Things

The folks who began 12 Small Things also produce the beautiful HAND/EYE magazine and website. 12 Small Things, no surprise, offers a dozen quality, handmade, artisan goods from around the globe. The current collection features work form India, Peru, Ghana, Haiti, Africa and Guatemala. The collections support craftspeople working to improve the lives of their families and communities in some of the most challenging situations on the planet. Their stories are those of strength, hope, and beauty, and each product reflects these qualities in the design and craftsmanship. 12 Small Thingsstrives to assist these communities and artisans through commerce.

One of our favorites for holiday giving are the magical EBONY VESSELS (photo 2) crafted from sustainably sourced mpingo wood by artisans living in Mozambique’s vast woodlands, these sophisticated storage jars are both useful and beautiful. The unique lids of these stylish lathe-turned jars are a chance for the carvers to show off their skills. Mpingo is the Kiswahili word for the dark hardwood also known as African blackwood or Mozambican ebony and grows prolifically in Mozambique’s forests. Differences in tone and slight imperfections confirm the authenticity of materials and craftsmanship of every vessel.

Select from 3 different styles; Small (7 x 4″), Medium (8 x 4″) or Large (10 x 4). If out of stock, vessels can be special ordered at info@12smallthings.com. Availability: In stock – $65.00

carpenter company

Patti Carpenter was a big time designer working for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Timberland and Bill Blass, when at the flip of the Millennium she decided she needed a different mission. So she quit and began working with artisans, primarily women across the wide world. Her mission was and is to help the incredible artisanal women to hone the design elements of their craft to appeal to markets in the industrialized world.

Carpenter voyages to Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America to seek out crafts, clothes and home decor items, which will enrich your lives while helping workers worldwide. One of her most loved new items are JouJou Dolls.These Haitian dolls are made in conjunction with Haiti Projects, Inc., Cooperative D’Artisanat and Carpenter. The fair wages are set by the artisans, generate a sustainable income source that in turn support families and communities. A percent of retail sales and wholesale sales, beyond the purchase price, go back to artisans to update water systems, improve housing and schools. $27

Also check out the DIGS web site in general for other sustainable gifts that give back and offer modern design and eco-friendly ethics, sustainable style and fair trade. Shop their collection of essentials, accessories and gifts for contemporary living, and discover sustainable design for every occasion. They offer natural body care, eco-friendly home furnishings, organic cotton textiles and designer bath accessories to FSC certified woods, fashion accessories, votives and oil diffusers, and natural home accessories.

Every DIGS item is made from recycled, repurposed, sustainable or organic materials. Crafted in collaboration with artisans from around the world, DIGS products meet Fair Trade guidelines.

The Andean Collection

The Andean Collection was founded to bring sustainable change to impoverished communities in South America. They offer artisans the opportunity to participate in the global market while inspiring customers with access to the elusive world of the rural Andes. Their motto is – “We Create to Encourage Change”.
They also have a non-profit arm, Andean Project, to ensure that this change is productive and healthy and to address other poverty related social issues, all funded through sales and private donations.

The jewelry runs from $30 to just under $100 dollars. One we love is the Cloud Forest Choker made form Acai and panbil beads it is $54

GreaterGood

And for those of you who would like to make a donation in the name of a loved one as the gift for any occasion think about GreaterGood.org is committed to making the world a better place by using simple online ways to protect the health and well-being of people, animals and the planet. GreaterGood.org partners with and funds leading nonprofit organizations around the world in order to alleviate poverty and hunger, promote peace, address cancer and other widespread health problems, foster literacy and provide education, preserve vital habitats in peril, and provide protection and care to vulnerable animals.

Angel Votive Candleholders (photo) are from Croix des Bouquets, a world renowned center of artisanry outside Haiti’s capitol, Port au Prince. Each angel is hand-chiseled from sheet metal using time-honored Croix des Bouquets techniques. Metal sculptor Exuvare Jolimeau comes from a famous family of metal artists headed by his uncle, Serge Jolimeau. Serge studied with the great master of Haitian metalwork, Georges Liautaud, whose artistry catapulted Haitian “fer forge” to international attention.12 Small Things