Our story begins with one courageous woman. In a chance encounter, our founders met Millie Grace Akena while walking through a Ugandan slum. Millie sat outside of her mud home, rolling beads from strips of paper under the sweltering sun, when Devin Hibbard, Ginny Jordan and Torkin Wakefield stopped to talk with her. Though she struggled to put food on the table, Millie found joy in creating beautiful things with her own hands, and she was determined to build a better future for her family.
Millie’s spirit was contagious, and she became the inspiration behind BeadforLife: A fair-trade label that employs women artisans and helps them sell their wares in the export market. Hundreds—and then thousands—of women turned their craftsmanship into higher incomes that sent children to school, paid for medical care and ensured pantries were never empty.
We could have stopped there, but we remembered Millie. She had the idea for a successful business before we did—all she needed was an opportunity. We wanted to make it possible for more women like Millie to live out their dreams. The BeadforLife team developed a training program to teach women living in poverty to create local businesses. They opened salons, shoe stores and produce stands, and their success made it clear we were on to something.
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