Empowering women is one aspect of Wonderfully Made and we are happy to highlight Akola Project, a non-profit that empowers women through social-good business. Akola Project was founded in 2006 by Brittany Underwood when she was a sophomore in college and had a vision to help orphans in Uganda. Since then, Akola has shifted- it teaches vulnerable women in Uganda how to be leaders in their communities and for their families, by teaching life skills and offering stable work and income through jewelry and bag making. Read up on on our Q&A with Brittany to learn more about Akola Project!
Is Akola Project a non-profit or for-profit entity? How does your business model stand out from the norm?
Akola is a non-profit entity. The biggest difference being that, legally Akola is mandated to reinvest 100% of product profits in to the social mission to empower women globally. Akola is only 1 or 2 brands we know operating under a non-profit framework.
What is the process of Ugandan women coming to work at Akola Project and learning the trade to create bags and the metal, glass, and beaded jewelry?
In Uganda, we have an extensive process to recruit, train and employ women. We work very closely with the communities – their Chiefs and local churches – to identify women in the greatest need.
We define “greatest need” as women who are caring for the most dependents – sometimes as many as 11 non-biological children and 15 biological children — but who have the least opportunities. We offer these women who have had little to no access to education, vocational skills and dependably employ them so they can earn living wages to provide for their families.
Akola goes further than economic opportunity though. Through Akola Academy, women participate in holistic and integrated programs that empower the women in health, wellness, ministry, personal finances, and business development skills so they are equipped as change makers in their families and communities.
Can you share any short testimonies of women who have been impacted by Akola Project in a positive way with economic empowerment?
One of our greatest success stories is of a woman named Yangi Helen. Helen lost many members of her family to the civil war in Northern Uganda and came to Akola after fleeing an internally displaced camp. At Akola she learned how to produce jewelry and starting earning a living wage to provide for family. After years of participating in Akola Academy, where she learned about health, finance, and business, Helen was able to launch two local businesses – one of which she recently sold to send her daughter to university. This is a major feat for a woman from rural Uganda!
How did you see God’s hand moving when you were in college and came up with the idea for AkolaProject?
God’s hand moved me to compassion during my sophomore year after a 10 minute meeting with a Ugandan woman, Sarah, who was not much older than myself at the time. She selflessly cared for 24 street orphans in her home. I was so amazed to meet women like Sarah, cared for 10+ children in their homes. Like Sarah, they had a hope and vision for their families, they simply did not have the income or confidence to embrace their calling. God moved me to found an organization to construct an orphanage home to house children who slept on Sarah’s floor.
How did Akola Project change from building a home for orphan children to creating a social good business and place for women to work?
While living and working on the ground in Uganda for five years I realized that an orphanage was not a sustainable model for caring for orphans. Instead, she met women in the rural villages who were culturally responsible for caring for disadvantaged children in their community, but who lacked the resources and the confidence to do so. The model evolved to equip these women to be the change makers in their community!
It’s taken seven years, but we now work with just over 400 women who collectively are caring for over 4,000 disadvantaged members of their community.
Are there ways that you see Akola Project growing and changing in the future to reach other countries and women?
Yes! Because 100% of our product profits are reinvested in the social mission, we have been able to grow the program every year. We started with 20 women from one village in Uganda. We now have 400+ women across 7 villages in Uganda, and we launched a program in Dallas this year! We are very thankful to get to work with women domestically too and look forward to investing and growing that opportunity over the next several years.
Our blog Know Your Value reaches women in their late teens and early twenties, what could you say to them about going after their dreams and realizing their goals?
Don’t give up, have tenacity, and trust in God. Your hard work will turn into greatness.