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Empowering women in the shea supply chain

Julia and Lisette with the local team visiting the project in Ghana (December 2021)

Since 2019, we have joined forces with our shea supplier AAK and the Global Shea Alliance to empower women shea collectors in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The shared goal of the project is to support 10,000 women through long-lasting initiatives over 5 years. The three initiatives chosen for the collaboration include shea tree planting, village savings and loans associations (VSLA) trainings and rocket stove trainings (i.e. ‘clean cookstoves’). These initiatives are anchored in Beiersdorf’s Sustainability Agenda CARE BEYOND SKIN and AAK’s direct sourcing program Kolo-Nafaso.

We spoke with Julia Beier (Responsible Sourcing Manager at Beiersdorf) and Lisette Townsend (Global Marketing Director at AAK) about the milestones reached after 2.5 years, how the project truly empowers women and what they are looking forward to as the project and collaboration continues until 2024. 

Community member participating in the rocket stove training

Julia, can you please tell us about how this collaboration and project contributes to Beiersdorf’s sustainability targets?

Julia: Shea butter is an important and natural raw material for a range of our products, e.g. the body and lip care products. The project we are supporting in West Africa in collaboration with AAK and the Global Shea Alliance is an important part of our Responsible Sourcing program and contributes to our CARE BEYOND SKIN Sustainability Agenda: For example it supports our pillar ‘For a climate caring future’ as the “Clean Cookstoves Project” helps to reduce scope 3 emissions in our shea supply chain. Additionally, the planting of over 10,000 shea trees combats climate change as the trees bind CO2 and can counteract the spread of the desert. The project is also contributing to our social pillar “For an inclusive society” as it focuses on the health and safety of the women, production optimization and business know-how – all key factors for improved shea butter production. We are glad to have this long-term cooperation with AAK which supports sustainability along the entire value chain. Together we can go further. 

Community members participating in the village savings and loans associations (VSLA) training

These days we hear a lot about projects that empower women. What is special about this one? Also, given the timeframe of the project – how has the global pandemic impacted the progress made?

Lisette: Firstly, it’s important to state that the collection and sale of shea kernels is traditionally women’s work, and they use the income to support their families, invest in their children’s education, or start small businesses. So, we are empowering the women through trade, knowledge-sharing and best practice training. For example, the village savings and loans associations (VSLA) training give women access to savings and micro-credits to invest in other trades and business opportunities. The rocket stove initiative teaches women how to build safer, more efficient alternatives to traditional two stone cookers using locally available material and has a high adoption rate. We also train on managing the shea parklands with seedling planting initiatives to help protect this valuable source of income for the women. We are incredibly proud that, despite the challenges of running the project during the pandemic, the project is on track to impact 10,000 women shea collectors over the five years.  

You both visited Ghana to see the initiatives in action back in December 2021. What surprised you the most during the visit? Was there anything that has left a lasting impression?

Lisette: I was surprised and impressed to see the far-reaching impact of the project so soon. I was also impressed with how business-savvy the women were in the VSLA training, taking out loans to buy grains at one market and selling them for a quick profit at another. But most of all, I was impressed by the dignity, pride and generosity of the women themselves, and it was an honor to spend time with them. 

Julia: It was great to visit our project on the ground and to gain a deep understanding of our different activities and partnerships with AAK and Global Shea Alliance. It was a joy to meet the women in different villages we are supporting and to discuss with them their future hopes, daily challenges and the positive impact our collaboration has made. 

Freshly harvested shea nuts (for shea butter)

What are you looking forward to most as the project continues until 2024?

Lisette: As we dive deeper and learn, I look forward to understanding better the environmental impacts of the project as well as the long-term impact of the initiatives. We can already see how quickly these are being adopted and spread. Most of all, I look forward to hearing the personal stories from the women about how the project has made a positive difference in their lives. 

Julia: We have also now started a carbon insetting project together with AAK to account for the scope 3 emission savings in our shea supply chain. Carbon insetting funds projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions in value chains. I am excited to see the results and learnings we gain from this new endeavor.

Thanks a lot Julia and Lisette for this insightful interview. I am looking forward to hearing about the exciting progress that unfolds as the project continues until 2024!

For a closer look at the project, check out the video below. 

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Hannah Trigg

About the editor

Hannah is a sustainability enthusiast with a passion for positive change, international collaboration and storytelling. She is responsible for communication on the topic of sustainability at Beiersdorf.