The Akola Project raises social awareness while helping to lift women out of poverty in both Uganda and Dallas, a notable and noble goal. A few months ago, here at Launch DFW we celebrated Brittany Merril Underwood, who was named the “Best Person in the World,” By Yahoo! in 2015. Now, Underwood is taking her work a step further. After recognizing that the jewelry she was selling was not enough to offer women in Dallas a livable wage, she set out to find a better solution to the problem- from Neiman Marcus no less.
The Akola Project is special and offers employment to women that have largely been forgotten and ignored by society. Underwood’s employees are not women who have had easy pasts. Instead, they are women who need someone to give them a second chance. That chance is freely given to those who want to work and do better.
“Everybody can change, and start over anew, but somebody’s got to be willing to give you a chance, a second chance in life,” Underwood told Courtney Collins of KERA News.
And second chances is she giving. Not only to women in Dallas, but also to women in Africa. Women in Africa often care for not just themselves, but also their families and their community at large, including children with no parents to care for them. Akola, which means “to work,” in the local Ugandan dialogue, was Underwood’s inspiration for the project. She also met Sarah, a woman living in extreme poverty taking care of 24 street children. On average, women in Uganda are caring for seven to ten children, along with the elderly in their families. Akola has given them an opportunity to get out of the subsistence farming, which sees them indebted to land owners and unable to break free from poverty.
This social enterprise has seen more than 400 women in Uganda lifted out of poverty. The number of children helped is in the thousands. While the women in Uganda, who are responsible for carving the pieces and hand rolling the paper beads have been lifted out of poverty by Underwood and Akola, in Dallas, the women were not faring as well.
Unfortunately, while the jewelry was a hit at the stores that carried the product lines, the pieces were not priced high enough to offer the women in Dallas a livable wage. Undeterred by adversity, Underwood approached Neiman Marcus to offer them a high-end line that would feature gem stones. The company not only said yes, but now carries the products in all of their stores, in their catalog, and online.
The collaboration with Neiman Marcus resulted in Underwood being able to immediately hire 100 women in Dallas. This offered women who are battling criminal histories with drugs and alcohol a real second chance at living a meaningful life.