Product, Service & Design Innovation
Social Enterprise Uses Baskets to Build Schools, Empower Women in West Africa

A social enterprise called Jjangde is tackling two of the largest problems in West Africa — lack of access to education and employment — by connecting handmade goods from rural communities in Senegal to global markets, and using the profits to fund schools in the communities where the goods were made.

With a test run of baskets, Jjangde says it was able to fund a summer program that gave 300 students extra support for the upcoming school year. The company also fully funded one year of school for 110 students and developed an exchange program to strengthen the relationship between high schools in Senegal and the United States.

Now poised to scale up its operations, Jjangde has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000, which will be used to hire 10 women full-time, open at least two schools and bring an inventory of 5,000 baskets to the United States. The funds also will cover a full year’s production.

“I started Jjangde in hopes to change the ‘buy one and give one to a child in need’ model,” said Valerie Lemke, Co-Founder of Jjangde. “I wanted to create a social enterprise that focused on a hand-up and not a handout. With Jjangde’s full-circle of development, we hope to change this model.”

Lemke says the company’s name is derived from the phrase Wallam e’ jangde, which means “help me learn” in Fulaani, a local Senegalese language.

Nearly half of rural Senegalese children drop out of school before the age of 12, and only two percent of girls attend high school, Lemke says. By providing families with additional income opportunities, Jjangde hopes more children will be free to attend school rather than remain on family farms to help make ends meet. The enterprise uses 100 percent of its profits to build locally-run schools in the communities where it operates, with the ultimate goal of establishing a culture of formal education the region currently lacks.

“Providing Senegalese children with the opportunity and culture to stay in school remains key to opening up their futures to other avenues and changing the prescribed expectations of low wages for livelihood,” Lemke added.

Basket-weaving is a long-standing tradition in Senegal, and Senegalese woven baskets are world-renowned, but the local women who produce them rarely receive their fair share of the profits. Many of these women are forced to support their families, often of nine or more, on a single dollar a day.

Jjangde aims to change this by employing local women and guaranteeing they will earn far higher wages and the power to comfortably support their families. Many of these women have refined their craft over decades, incorporating local hays and grasses, as well as strips of reclaimed plastic prayer mats for color accents.

Building a culture of formal education begins with women, Jjangde says. The company has an agreement with all of its artisans that they will keep their children in school as long as they are employed by the Jjangde cycle. Profits from the baskets also can fund full-time schooling for over 100 children for an entire year.

As of this writing, Jjangde is already nearly halfway to its $50,000 goal with more than a month to go.

Crowdfunding has proven an effective tool for launching social enterprises aimed at helping Africa. Earlier this year, Oakland-based social enterprise Kuli Kuli successfully raised more than $50,000 to scale up production of its “superfood” nutrition bars aimed at helping to alleviate poverty in West Africa.

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