Alumna's New Business Venture Connects Her With Her Mother, Gives Back to Ghana
Naa-Sakle Akuete ’08 is a Wall Street analyst by day. At night, you can find her filling tins with shea butter and essential oils at her kitchen table—a new business venture and a labor of love designed to allow her to work closely with her mother and give back to their native Ghana.
Akuete’s parents fled Ghana in 1979, seeking asylum in the U.S. Her mother returned in 2000 to care for her ailing grandmother. "She’s been there for 15 years and I miss her so much," Akuete told Fast Company Magazine in a recent profile. Akuete wanted to find a way to connect her life to her mother’s more directly, and looked to a product used by women in her family for generations as a way to do so.
In Ghana, shea butter is recognized as having therapeutic effects on skin and hair. Akuete’s grandmother used it in her practice as a midwife for decades, helping pregnant women with stretch marks. Akuete’s mother, Eugenia, had launched a wholesale shea butter company upon returning to Ghana in 2000. Akuete selected a business venture importing Ghanaian shea butter to America. She launched the body cream product line Eu’Genia Shea (named for her mother) earlier this year.
Akuete has managed U.S. operations while her mother found shea producers in Ghana. Eugenia, while working with shea farmers and pickers, discovered that many companies tended to care more about keeping prices down than ensuring that workers had a decent quality of life. For Eu’Genia Shea’s supplier, Eugenia chose a co-op of female pickers in northern Ghana that provided sustainable wages and training to their employees.
In a product profile, a New York Times Magazine fashion blogger called the company, “a girl-power operation all the way down: Eu’Genia works with all-female cooperatives in northern Ghana, providing above-average wages and job training to the workers who harvest the nuts — many of whom are mothers themselves.”
Through co-ops, the company works with over 700 women in northern Ghana, Akuete told the Wellesley Underground. Workers receive health and financial literacy training, and a portion of the company’s profits helps pay for the children of the women who work for the co-op.
“Many Wellesley women read about Eu'Genia, and the work we've been doing, and [have] made a point of tweeting, instagramming, Facebooking [and],” Akuete quipped,” carrier pigeoning, about us and that has meant the world to me.”
She continued, “Women I didn't know and have never met making the effort to spread the word about Eu'Genia has been incredibly empowering. It's reinforced the sense of community that I felt on my campus tour back in 2003. You may not always see it or feel it, but I think the lesson learned is: community is all around you, and Wellesley is for life. Thank you!”
Read the Fast Company profile, “Literally A Labor Of Love: This Ghanaian Mom And Daughter Built A Shea Butter Company Together,” the New York Times Magazine product profile, “A Mother’s Day Gift That Benefits More Women Than Just Mom,” and the Wellesley Underground Q&A where Akuete talks about Entrepreneurship & Female Empowerment.