Members of Alaffia shea cooperative in West Africa

My early experience growing up in West Africa influenced my desire to promote fair trade principles. I see it as my moral obligation and duty. Through this work, the women and children of my communities can receive the equal opportunities that they rightfully deserve. That is why my fair-trade beauty company, Alaffia, exists today.

From a young age, I’ve carried a strong desire to positively impact humankind. Born and raised in the village of Kaboli, Togo, in West Africa, an area known for its crowded markets and local trading, I grew up learning to work hard as a necessity to support my family. I witnessed firsthand the injustices and inequalities that my own mother, and many of the women in my village, faced daily.

It was here in Kaboli where I met my partner Prairie Rose Hyde — we shared a calling to do right in the world and to fight the injustices that existed in West Africa. Rose and I made a commitment to the community, and in 2003, we co-founded the first shea butter cooperative that later grew and became known as Alaffia.

Our simple commitment has impacted the lives of more than 250,000 underserved individuals in West Africa.

Our Beyond Fair-Trade Business Model

For nearly two decades, Alaffia’s mission has been to alleviate poverty and advance gender equality. We do this through the fair trade of indigenous African resources such as the unrefined shea butter, African black soap, coconut oil, and neem extract we use in the formulation of our plant-based personal care and beauty products.

Our goal is always to follow our moral compass, which is all about people and giving them opportunities that put them on a path toward upward mobility and success. It only made sense to organize cooperatives in West Africa near the resources readily available in Togolese communities. This helped ensure that our women-led members would be able to provide their skills and knowledge to the rest of the world and in return begin the rise out of poverty.

Alaffia workers hand-stirring shea butter
Cooperative members hand-stirring locally sourced shea butter that is an ingredient in Alaffia plant-based personal care and beauty products.

Programs That Empower and Provide Basic Needs

Since our inception, Alaffia has impacted the lives of more than 250,000 individuals in West Africa. The programs we have established have directly funded over 6,500 births; donated school supplies to 37,521 students; distributed 30,852 eyeglasses to recipients in need; distributed 10,817 bicycles to students; planted over 99,000 trees; and built 16 schools.

We’re implementing community empowerment initiatives to make positive changes in education, maternal and infant mortality rates in addition to supporting reforestation in rural farming areas.

Alaffia makes it a priority to positively impact humanity through community education. By providing nearly 11,000 students with bicycles, we’re ensuring they make it to school each day safely and on time. Alaffia has created a domino effect that emphatically impacts education, healthcare, food stability, employment, helping to ensure an equitable future for the people in these communities.

We are a human-centered enterprise. We put the dignity and basic rights of our community members at the center of all we do. It’s about basic needs, not profit. Empowering, not charity.

School children holding new pens and pencils
Alaffia programs have built 16 schools and donated school supplies to more than 37,500 students.

Putting People Over Profit

We hope that others will be inspired to use this model of business. By adopting a Beyond Fair Trade model, organizations can bring fair, equitable employment and inspire self-empowerment for marginalized communities. I’ve seen, firsthand, the improvements that come from doing business in this manner. The positive impact that fair trade has on poverty-stricken communities is beyond measure.

As an organization, we strive to demonstrate to others how to positively impact communities by putting humanity and sustainability first — while still being successful. As an African entrepreneur, I can tell you that leadership is not just telling people what to do; it’s leading by example and it’s putting people over profit at every turn.

Every time an Alaffia product is purchased, a portion of proceeds from the sale of the product is returned to communities to fund community projects that support gender equality and women’s empowerment, in particular. My hope is for others to join us in this quest for a more sustainable future.

Olowo-n'djo & Co-op members dancing
For nearly two decades, Alaffia’s mission has been to alleviate poverty and advance gender equality.

All photos are courtesy of Alaffia.

About the Author

Olowo-n’djo Tchala Olowo-n’djo Tchala founded Alaffia, which handcrafts award-winning clean and fair trade beauty and grooming products. The organization advances gender equality and alleviates poverty through the fair trade of indigenous African resources such as unrefined shea butter, African black soap, coconut oil, and neem extract. Learn more at Alaffia.com.

 

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