In the West African country of Togo, poverty is a way of life. The majority of Togo’s women and children live much like Washington entrepreneur Olowo-n’djo Tchala lived throughout his childhood, crowded into tiny homes and forced to eke out a paltry existence from the land. Thanks to Tchala’s smart use of one of Togo’s most abundant resources, however, that is changing. His U.S.-based company, Alafia, employs over 4,500 Togolese workers in the manufacture of shea butter, a prized ingredient in many beauty products sold in the West.
Shea butter is made from the nuts of the karite nut tree, which grows wild in Togo. Tchala’s crew harvests the nuts and brings them to a workforce of about 500 women, who distills them into a creamy paste. Known as “women’s gold” because so many women are employed in its manufacture, shea butter’s popularity has exploded over the past decade, with demand increasing by over 1200 percent. Alafia is the preferred buyer throughout Togo because Tchala is willing to pay between 25 and 60 cents per kilogram for the product, about 20 percent over market rate. Although not much by Western standards, this small dividend goes a long way towards improving the quality of many lives.
Tchala’s policies are working for Alafia, as well. The company has grown by 47 percent each year since 2009, and is on track to net about $13 million in sales in 2013. Tchala uses his profits to develop new products — his wife, Rose, heads the company’s research and development team — but he never forgets his roots. Alafia’s profits fund numerous humanitarian efforts in Togo, including the purchase of 4,000 bicycles for the region’s children, a new secondary school and educational programs that focus on maternal and child health.
Read more at Forbes.