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Image:The Akola Project
I am the Founder of the Akola Project, a non-profit social business that empowers women to elevate the well-being of their families and communities through economic development. We are a global brand that makes high-fashion jewelry fully made by and benefiting marginalized women in Uganda and Dallas.

Our Akola model was born out of experience with antiquated development models. In 2004, I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college teaching at a school in Uganda. I met a Ugandan woman named Sarah who struggled to take care of 24 street children who slept on her floor.

I was shaken out of my complacency. Here I was, a girl who had been given everything but shared nothing with others, standing before a woman who had been given nothing yet shared everything with others. I gave Sarah the little money I had in my pocket and promised to pray for her.

During my last two years of college, I formed a non-profit that raised $1 million to build an orphanage home for the children who slept on Sarah's floor. I moved to Uganda after graduating to oversee the construction.

It was a disaster. It should have been obvious that a model that had been gradually phased out over the past 100 years in our own country would not work in another country. We had problems with accountability and never knew exactly where the money went. I realized quickly that employing this model would require enough money not only to maintain the building and compensate staff, but to care for 180 children, max capacity of the building, each year, supporting each child for a span of 18 years. It's not sustainable.

We finished the building but had some thinking to do. How could we address the orphan crisis in a more sustainable and appropriate way?

Several years working on the ground had taught me that African women are culturally responsible for the livelihoods of orphans in their village. In fact, most women care for an average of 10 children in their homes.

Women - mainly widows - in Uganda are charged with this great calling but are severely marginalized by war, lack of opportunity, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. I wondered if equipping these women to take needy children into their own homes might be the answer to the orphan crisis.

We built the Akola model in 2007 as a next generation model designed to care for widows and orphans. For our model to work, we needed a way for women to generate a sustainable income. So we created an accessories line - jewelry and bags - that are as beautiful as the women who make them. To date, we have trained and fully employed 250 women who care for over 2,500 children in their communities. Akola products have been sold in over 350 high-end boutiques nationwide, and the project has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, CNN International, Fox Small Business, Entrepreneur, and The Katie Show.

Social businesses have emerged as a next generation solution to poverty. We are excited to help pioneer this movement.

Stay tuned for more...

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From the Editor
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