so·cial en·tre·pre·neur (n.) a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change
During our service trip as newlyweds to Ghana in 1999, Kayla and I spent some time with drum carvers, who showed us how to carve and build an Adowa drum. We learned their business strategy was to build a drum and put it on the side of the road, hoping that a passerby would stop and purchase it. Despite their great talent, and willingness to work hard, the lack of working capital and education limited their income and kept their cottage industry from growing.
Wanting to sell more drums to better support their families, they later sent us a letter, boldly asking if I would help them to sell their drums in the United States. Willing to be of service, I responded, “I don’t know anything about selling drums, but I’m sure if you can find a way to get the drums to me, I can find a way to sell them and send you the money.” A few weeks later ten djembe drums wrapped in burlap bags were delivered to our doorstep in Provo, Utah. Little did we know that these drums would become the bridge between our short “humanitarian honeymoon” and a future of working alongside the poor to fight poverty in West Africa.
I set up a social enterprise to facilitate the marketing and distribution of traditional hand-crafted drums, instruments, and accessories made by our drum carving friends in Ghana. In time I realized that this small success with one group of cultural artisans could be expanded to give a hand up to others across West Africa. With the generous help of friends experienced in e-commerce, websites and marketplaces were created for the purpose of providing sustainable livelihoods for skilled artisans, and to raise funds and awareness for other humanitarian work among the poor. As CEO I continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of import, marketing, product management, order fulfillment, and customer service, with invaluable contributions made by employees and volunteers.
Our work is making a difference. Now hundreds of cultural artisans in 11 countries have received over half a million US dollars in income, as tens of thousands of their hand-made instruments have been purchased by musicians, schools, and music stores from around the world. Profits are used to cover the operating expenses of the non-profit, enabling all charitable donations to Africa Heartwood Project to be used in implementing humanitarian projects in Africa, with no deductions taken out for administrative overhead or employees.