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Africa isn't a lost cause, and global consumers are making a difference

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I’ve been to Africa six times during the past seven years to buy crafts, clothing, and other goods sold through my organization, We cooperate with nonprofits (Mercy Corps, Partners in Health, and Millennium Promise) to alleviate hunger and poverty by promoting the work of Africans themselves.

The continent’s real wealth is not in its buried minerals or fertile fields (although those are worth plenty). It’s in the heads and hands of Africans, including a diverse group of world-class artisans: weavers in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Swaziland; stone carvers in Kenya and Zimbabwe; woodworkers in Mozambique, and many others.

Part of our site’s mission is to link producers in the developing world with first-world consumers, because providing sustainable income to once-marginalized populations is the surest way to reduce intergenerational poverty.

To maximize income for local producers, we partner with organizations such as The African Trade Hubs, Global Mamas, and Aid to Artisans, that connect us directly with craft workers, eliminating a long chain of sellers and re-sellers. This enables us to deliver as much as 20 to 40 percent of the sales price for items from our online store directly to artisans.

In the long run, however, it is growing markets for African goods, combined with political and economic reforms that are giving Africans a chance to earn secure incomes.

In Rwanda for example, following the devastating genocide of 1994, sisters Joy Ndunguste and Janet Nkubana started a small company to distribute handwoven baskets. From an initial group of 20, Gahaya Links has grown to a network of more than 4,000 weavers. When a new weaver joins the group, Joy and Janet insist that the first paycheck is used to buy shoes for the weaver’s children; going barefoot in Rwanda creates a high risk of contracting hookworm.

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