Rahama Wright is a social entrepreneur working to innovate the Shea butter supply chain in West Africa. She is a first generation-Ghanaian American that was raised in upstate New York. Although growing up she spent very little time in Ghana, she was always fascinated by the stories her mother told her about being from Africa and she knew she wanted to work in Africa when she grew up.
This led her to study International Relations at SUNY Geneseo and during her senior year she interned at the Department of State with a follow up internship at the American Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso after she graduated. Her internship at the American Embassy gave her an early introduction into the Shea butter world, because she focused on researching income generating activities for women.
Prior to Rahama’s internship she had no idea that shea butter came from Sub-Saharan Africa. “I was familiar with shea butter because I would see it in products on shelves in US stores, but did not know of its origin as an African resource connected to the livelihoods of women. As I interviewed women, the shea producers, I saw a common theme of poverty that was baffling. Shea butter was sold for lots of money back in the US, so it was perplexing to see so many women who were the traditional harvesters struggling to make ends meet.” She says.
After Rahama completed her internship, she moved to Mali where she spent the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working in a small village as a health educator. Similar to Burkina Faso, she met many women who could not make ends meet, yet they harvested and produced shea butter. Her fascination with the shea industry was solidified during her service. She decided to create a secondary project organizing shea butter producers and submitting a small grant proposal to get funding for training. The process of working with the women in her village sparked a desire to do more after her service ended.
In 2005, Ms. Wright launched Shea Yeleen International, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports women-owned cooperatives in West Africa, and provides training on quality assurance and micro-enterprise development. With a vision to develop an integrative and sustainable supply chain, Ms. Wright created Shea Yeleen Health and Beauty, LLC in 2012, a for-profit sister organization that markets and distributes high quality skincare products.
What Shea Yeleen has set out to do is nothing short of a miracle in itself. Not only is this social enterprise’s mission to organize and train women in the villages of Ghana to produce high quality natural butter, Shea Yeleen also uses this shea butter as the main component in a decadent and high quality body care line that they make available for sale to the western world. These sales then provide a fair wage to the women who own and work at the Shea butter cooperatives in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rahama chats with us about Shea Yeleen, how its empowering women shea producers and the lessons she’s learnt along the way. Read the interview in our June Issue here.