It’s a long way from the arid countryside of West Africa to cosmetic stores in the United States, candy shops in Europe and beyond. What links them is the nut of the shea tree — and entrepreneurs like Rita Dampson.
In northern Ghana, Dampson travels to villages to organize women who collect shea nuts, helping them transform the nuts into butter and package it for export.
“I put women together. I give them skills,” Dampson says. “I empower them so they always earn something. That is my job.”
Dampson plays many roles: organizer, trainer, matchmaker, ambassador of shea.
Throughout West Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Shea Alliance connect 16 million women like Dampson from 21 African countries to food and cosmetic markets in the United States, the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.
Dampson started working with 33 women. Now she has helped organize more than 1,000 shea pickers and producers. In one village where Dampson works, Gupanarigu in northern Ghana, more than 130 women are involved in the shea trade.
Women at Dampson’s cooperative and at similar organizations across West Africa learn to follow best practices in producing shea butter to ensure that they deliver a reliable product.
The work brings much-needed, steady income to these communities, where families often rely on the boom-and-bust agricultural cycle.
“I have gone far, I have benefited,” Dampson says. “And I want the women to feel the same.”
A longer version of this article is available from USAID.