Financially emancipating the women of West Africa

by Tendai Dube 0

Shea Yeleen is a U.S. based company that promotes the financial emancipation of women in rural West Africa, through the production, marketing and sale of high-quality Shea butter.

The company does this by ensuring that profits from the sale of its finished products go back to the women at the grassroots levels making the products.

“Over 90 percent of Shea that leaves the African continent is in raw material form, it is very similar to a lot of agricultural products where value addition is not happening locally,” said Rahama Wright, Shea Yeleen President and Chief Executive Officer.

“I started Shea Yeleen after serving in the peace corps for two years and I served as a health educator, I was assigned to a small rural village and really seeing a lot of challenges women have coming to the rural health centre and unable to buy medicine,”

Wright was looking for income generating activities for women and after much research she found Shea Butter.

The company helps women take the Shea seeds and turn it into a high quality product that is well packaged, it then takes the product to sell in the U.S.

“We sell our products in whole foods markets and which is the largest natural products retailer in the U.S. as well as small independent mom-and-pop shops,” said Wright.

Wright has an interest in Ghana because she is half Ghanaian on her mother’s side.

“So I have always had an interest in African related issues specifically around women and economic development.”

Shea Yeleen trains the women, it provides access to capital, the production tools and then it does the market link.

“That is part of the reason why I started Shea Yeleen; I wanted to create a model that allowed women to generate living wages – in Northern Ghana that means increasing their income by five times the Ghanaian minimum wage.”

Wright hopes to expand further into Africa as the business grows – in terms of production and sales – places where they can recreate the model.

“We are also looking at other communities – Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Niger -not only in the Shea sector but also in other sectors, like Marula Oil, Moringa Oil, Neem Oil, and Baobab Oil.”

Wright adds: “A lot of time when African products come to market, very often, the local community member do not benefit so what we are trying to do is we are trying to create access, visibility and a voice for traditional producers of amazing African products.”