Weaving Artisans and Markets Together, with Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa

All Across Africa creates sustainable jobs to alleviate poverty in Africa.

Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa, pictured with artisans

Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa, pictured with artisans

Travel is a key component of Alicia Wallace’s journey. When she was 14 years old, she visited slums in Mexico. At the time, she thought “this isn’t right.” She wondered if there was a model that creates homes, jobs, and dignity for people, without depending on charity. She knew she wanted to commit her talents and energy to serve others.

While attending university in Seattle, Alicia found a job at a law firm. Within two years, she was managing the firm. “I thought that was going to be my career path,” Alicia explains, “to climb a corporate ladder and be in leadership in a large corporation. But there was still this fire in me to travel and change the world.”

A Bucket List Trip Leads to Sustainable Impact

“I was making a good wage,” she says. “Part of my bucket list was ‘go to Africa.’” In 2009, an opportunity came up to travel to Sierra Leone. Alicia thought “How can I say no? That’s on my bucket list.” While she was in Sierra Leone, she says “I learned and saw things that I could not forget.” She was suddenly confronted with the fact that she was living her life in a bubble. “And that became my mission.”

Alicia wanted to grow a solution from the local community. “My first mission there, it was this white savior model,” she acknowledges. Not long after her 2009 medical trip, there was an Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. The team of doctors that had gone every year, did not go for the next two years. “It was this model where we did not develop the community to solve their own problem.” When she returned from her trip she first asked, “How do we create a scholarship fund to send local doctors to school?”

Alicia started looking for opportunities to contribute her talents. “I was interviewing organizations as much as they were interviewing me,” she laughs. “I wanted to understand what sustainability looked like. What did it look like to empower people to make their own decision?”

She interviewed with the nonprofit Rwanda Partners. In her first interview, she and the executive director Greg Stone, argued about development methods and whether microfinance was changing people’s lives. Eventually, she accepted a job with Rwanda Partners and moved to Rwanda. “What I saw when I lived in Rwanda,” Alicia says, “is when you’re creating a job for a person, they have control and power. That’s where I found a difference in economic empowerment. They need an external market. They need to be connected to Europe and America. There isn’t a local demand that is strong enough.”

Working with Greg Stone, Alicia says, “We started creating jobs for men and women locally: farming projects, chicken and egg farms, and pineapple plantations.” Along the way, Greg was gifted several baskets. “He came back to the US and started the get them in front of people through his church, and craft fares. He found a very strong response to the product.” They started an income-generating project through artisan craft, using local artisans and material while connecting them with external markets. “For us, creating jobs became an exporting model where we could return a high wage, lifting people out of poverty much faster than a local market model could.”

When Work Met Luck

Greg and Alicia caught a lucky break when a buyer for Costco happened to walk by a booth where Greg was selling woven products. “Costco was the first customer that we had,” Alicia says. “In this model, we were able to scale supply and demand equally.” By using the Costco “road show” model, they were able to control their growth. “We could take on as many road shows as we wanted in a month,” Alicia explains.

“It was then about making a really good product,” Alicia says. “The story mattered, but the product, at the end of the day, was key. We find that some customers only care about the design, the color, and the quality. They’ll buy it, regardless of it being made by an artisan. They just think it’s a beautiful product. We find others who are looking for a gift and might choose this gift over another gift because they know about the impact.”

In 2013, Greg and Alicia founded All Across Africa. Their products are sold under the KAZI brand. To ensure that the products they sell match the demands of the market, the products are designed in the US and produced by artisans from local material in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Ghana.

The Impact of All Across Africa

All Across Africa is dedicated to alleviating poverty and creating jobs for men and women in Africa. They produce tens of thousands of units per year. Customers include Costco, ProFlowers, Ethan Allen, Anthropologie, West Elm, One Kings Lane, and over 500 boutique retailers.

The average artisan supports 5.7 dependents. “They’re also creating 1.5 jobs in their area,” Alicia describes. “Because this is a direct foreign investment, new cash introduced, the women are now buying meat in the marketplace and creating a job for the butcher. And the butcher is now paying school fees to the teacher.” Artisans are going from earning perhaps twenty cents per day working on a local farm to earning three to eight dollars per day. For 3,400 men and women, it’s 95% of their income.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Alicia Wallace

“We’re developing a product with an end-purpose that is creating a job and an income.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “We’re experts in woven products.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “My heart broke. I came back quite angry that we have chosen to live in these bubbles.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “How do we provide the funding, but it’s not reliant on our spring vacation?” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I was interviewing organizations as much as they were interviewing me.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I created a reputation for myself that nobody wanted to hire me.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “Business is successful because of hard work and luck.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I started by looking at magazines and moved to hiring designers and buying forecast trend reports.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “How, when we show up at a trade show, do we look like the other things in the marketplace?” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I feel like it’s job first, education paired second.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “We’re producing tens of thousands of units annually.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “Artisans on average are supporting 5.7 dependents.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “It’s amazing to see this direct foreign investment circulate and have a multiplier effect.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “You have to trust the mentors and take advice, but you’re the one running your business.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “An anthill is built by a lot of ants working on their one specific task, moving one grain of sand at a time.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet

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About the Author
Tony Loyd is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and the author of Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. He is a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, talent management, and leadership development. Tony is the host of the podcast Social Entrepreneur where you can hear the stories of changemakers who are making an impact on the world.

1 comment on “Weaving Artisans and Markets Together, with Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa

  1. Uncle Mark says:

    I am sincerely in awe, one young creative mind with aspirations to assist others through genuine sincere effort to exemplify the will of God in helping others and through hard work

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