Rahama Wright was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali when she saw firsthand the challenges women faced, trying to take care of themselves and their children. Many of the women were living in poverty; there was no running water or electricity. So in her early twenties, Wright decided to start a company that would give more power to women in West Africa who pick shea fruit for a living.

Now a decade later, Wright’s for-profit company Shea Yeleen employs hundreds of women in Ghana on a seasonal basis, and its products are sold in more than 100 Whole Foods stores. The 35-year-old founder also serves on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.

Shea Yeleen employees working with shea seeds in Ghana.
Shea Yeleen works with cooperative members in Ghana to produce shea butter (photo courtesy of Shea Yeleen).

In our latest podcast, Wright says she wants to help change the way business is done in Africa. Historically, many companies simply extract raw material from the continent and add value to it elsewhere. It’s the same with shea fruit. Wright says it’s mostly exported from Africa in the form of seeds, which women have picked for cheap. “That means women are making pennies. When they’re able to access the resources to create a value-added product, that gives them the opportunity to make dollars.”

These women are certainly tapping into a lucrative industry. Shea butter exports from West Africa reportedly bring in $90 million to $200 million a year.

Rahama Wright’s Twitter

Lioness Magazine: Rahama Wright Empowers Female Shea Butter Producers To Be Independent

Black Enterprise: Power Women of the Diaspora: Young Leader Using Shea Butter to Empower Women Around the World