Weaving Hope in East Africa


By Meredith Mosbacher

The term "Benefit Corporation" (or B-Corp) is not one you hear often, but it should be. In the words of All Across Africa's Chief Operating Officer Alicia Wallace, benefit corporations "work to create a positive impact on society and the environment without losing sight of its bottom line." It is "the best of business and the best of the non-profit world. It's social business."

Alicia Wallace got the idea for her social business, All Across Africa, while volunteering in an entirely different hemisphere. She was in Mexico at the age of 14 helping to build a house for a family. "The purpose was honorable," she says, but she felt like she could do more. "It was as if we moved this able, working man out of his old house and said, 'here, the white people have built you a new, better one.' When I saw this, something shifted in me... So often we want to solve the surface level issue, but really, the bigger issue of not having income and a job for this man to support his family is much greater."

All Across Africa is founded on the principle of fighting global poverty through providing economic independence. "Our first and primary focus is to create jobs that change lives. Employment can educate, employment can save and invest and employment can build homes. Employment is what all of us need to provide for our own families and to have a future." All Across Africa works in four different countries in East Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. All four countries have been ravaged by war and genocide. Although there has been an improvement in conditions in East Africa, poverty, access to health care, education and employment remains an issue. All Across Africa works with survivor populations in these countries: over 3,000 artisans in 42 co-operatives with their numbers constantly growing. Yet, it is inherent to All Across Africa's mission is focus on the individual: her growth, success, nutrition and access to health care. This is helped in part through All Across Africa's partnerships with Rwanda Partners and Opportunities Across Africa. "We want to create a chain reaction that doesn't stop with one purchase. It's more than just giving back for us. It's paying it forward, back and beyond."

It is fitting that All Across Africa's major product is baskets. As Wallace explains, "Women in Rwanda have been weaving baskets for generations. It's a craft passed from mother to daughter. The baskets tell different stories of hope, unity and friendship in traditional Rwandan culture. They are a significant source of income for men and women across the country now and are seen as symbol of prosperity as well. Our weavers say with pride their occupation is 'a weaver!'" All Across Africa not only teaches men and women survivors to weave, but also gives both newly trained and previously established weavers access to a market that would otherwise be unreachable. Wallace makes it clear that although All Across Africa helps the survivor populations it works with, the artisans are not looking for an easy handout. "Survivors are victims but never play the role. They are hardworking, active participants looking for ways out of grinding poverty. They are people who love and live and have dreams and futures that each and every one of us can be a part of, we just need to open our eyes to small and simple ways!"

To learn more about All Across Africa, and shop their products, click here.

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