At the root of Atacora’s inception is the clear intent to promote rural African women as primary economic actors. One of the first things we did back in 2009 was to assemble a Fair Trade co-op of women in the Boukombe region of northern Benin to process Baobab and Neem using their traditional methods. These women are stalwart and wise, advancing their households’ well-being, and that of the region as a whole.
As the market landscape for Atacora’s fine wellness products has improved and expanded both locally and internationally, the Co-op has steadily grown. We have 33 women employed for the 2014 campaign! We revere these Matriarchs, Aunties and Sisters, and are very proud to have them as a driving force for socio-economic justice in the region.
Atacora was conceived and founded by myself and Beninese partners Jacob Ghanaba and Antoine Wema, three men with tremendous spirit and will to uplift our communities, and great reverence for the women at the forefront, but men nonetheless. We have always wanted to bring women into the administration of the business, yet have had difficulty doing so for a number of reasons. Until recently, it had never been thought of as very important to put girls in, and keep them in school.
Women in the Otammari ethnic group are influential influential in tribal life, but their roles as keepers of the hearth superceded thoughts of advancement through literacy and education. Thus, there is a severe lack of women with the educational level and skills necessary to function in the direction of a company. Thankfully, that is changing with a big global and national push for girls’ education!
There ARE some Otammari women with these qualifications, but they are difficult to recruit because of the persistence of the AID model of development, where projects are externally conceived in and heavily funded by foreign entities. Not only does this often result in initiatives that do not rightly address local needs, but the pool of qualified people to work in locally generated, entrepreneurial endeavors is severely depleted. Especially the women.
We’ve tried, usually to be turned down for artificially lucrative or perceived glamorous jobs with NGOs. This has long been a source of frustration for us, as we think it is essential to integrate women at a high level to help steer our endeavor that is aimed at women, after all.
Making Strides – Veronique
We hired Veronique Natta a couple of years ago for a variety of duties. She is the Gal Friday of African operations. She does not have a whole lot of education, but her will and hard work have enabled her to positively respond to training and experience, and increase her capacity. She has learned X-Cel, and does alot of filing and data entry. When we need a document, she knows where it is. She’s shown herself to be very capable supervising the Co-op ladies and contributing to village trainings as well. Vero gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Simbiatou N’Kwa Sarita on January 21, 2014. Sarita is the newest member of the Atacora family!
Fouti Isabelle is a welcome recent addition to the Atacora team. She is just who we have been waiting for! Bella is educated to the Baccalauriat level, and has several years of experience as Secretary-Accountant for an NGO. That job came to an end, and Bella has been teaching computer science at the local high school part time. Although she is part time for now, we hope to bring her on permanently soon. She is super organized, and shows great leadership skills, whether it is organizing the crew for baobab collection missions, teaching Vero more in-depth computer and office skills or animating the Co-op ladies to increase production and create a happy work environment. She is top notch! Her spontaneous traditional singing and dancing make everyone smile, and her hard-core bossy nature really gets things moving!
Charlotte Hamilton is our newly recruited intern from the Evergreen State College, where she is a Senior. For Atacora, she is a highly motivated and creative worker who helps us in all manner of marketing, sales and production tasks. Her tenure brings research and internship academic goals as well, and we are all about helping her succeed at this pursuit. It is definitely a win-win situation, and we all get along really well to boot!
If Atacora ever received a Godsend, it is Louisa Clark, a.k.a. Moe! I have been friends with Moe and her family for many years, but it was sheer luck and circumstance that brought on our collaboration. A natural salesperson, she had met with considerable success with a variety of companies as an independent rep. We started with small steps, but it was soon obvoius that we complemented each other’s skill sets really well, shared the love of the Atacora Fair Partnership mission, and needed to put our heads together full-time. She and her husband Paul and their two beautiful kids, Alijah and Luna Belle moved from Seattle to Olympia, and now we are the best team in the business! Her skill and perseverence allowed me to travel to Benin for several months to really get African operations in shape, while not worrying about things stateside. We talked every day, collaborating just as if we were sitting across from each other. I recently returned to find the office exquisitely organized and efficient. I’m super-impressed with how much she has learned about marketing and all the rest on her own accord. No amount of thanks and accolades could suffice!