It all started as a love story in Togo in 1996 when Prairie Rose Hyde, a Washington state native, traveled to the West African country for her Peace Corps service and met Olowo-n’djo Tchala, a Togolese man from the village of Kaboli near the border with Benin. The two fell in love and returned to the U.S. to be married after her service ended.
Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Prairie Rose Hyde Tchala
Olowo-n’djo had dropped out of school in the sixth grade several years earlier to support his family as he was unable to afford school fees.
After their wedding and with a new life in the United States, Olowo-n’djo picked up his education where he left off. He returned to school and later earned his bachelor’s degree in organizational theory at the University of California, Davis.
Determined to make a difference in his home country and grateful for the opportunities afforded to him in the U.S., the idea for Alaffia was born.
Alaffia is a health and beauty products company which directly employs over 700 women in rural Togo and pays four times the average family income there while it’s contracted with more than 14,000 women as suppliers.
For empowering women and applying the best business practices in the United States and abroad, on Friday, at the 19th U.S. Secretary of State’s Awards for Corporate Excellence ceremony, Alaffia was presented with the Award for Corporate Excellence in Women’s Economic Empowerment.
The award was presented to Olowo-n’djo by Under Secretary for Political Affairs, David Hale, at an event attended by many people, including the Ambassadors of Togo, Ethiopia and the African Union to the United States, as well as by the U.S. Ambassador to Togo David Gilmour, and Bureau of African Affairs Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan.
Also in attendance were U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh and the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Matthew Harrington.
With Alaffia, Rose and Olowo-n’djo are fostering sustainable communities in both Togo and Olympia, Washington, through the fair trade of indigenous resources such as shea butter and coconut oil.
Today, the beauty and body care products company employs 145 at its 100,000 sq. ft. Tumwater, Washington headquarters and more than 14,000 as employees and contractors in fair-trade cooperatives in West Africa.
Alaffia’s products can be found in Whole Foods Markets, Kroger and Walmart stores across the U.S. and are distributed in 10 foreign countries.
Alaffia’s non-profit empowerment initiatives have resulted in 59,775 trees planted, 34,640 school supply recipients, 8,253 bikes distributed, 25,588 eyeglasses donated, 12 schools constructed and more than 4,800 babies safely delivered in West Africa.
Olowo-n’djo was recently named a recipient of the Pacific Northwest’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award as a “Mold Breaker.” In June he was appointed to serve on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Advisory Committee on Africa.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh, said Alaffia dedicates 15 percent of its fair trade sales to community projects that improve maternal and child health, promote education and better protect the environment in Togo.
On the U.S. Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence, Ms Singh said the United States has been recognizing outstanding companies since 1999.
“These companies uphold high standards and represent American values in the way they do business,” she said.
The Award for Corporate Excellence in Sustainable Operations went to PVH Corporation. PVH is a lead investor in the model industrial park in Hawassa, Ethiopia.
The company is investing in factories powered by renewable energy and have many operations which will protect Ethiopia’s environment while contributing to its economic success. An industry leader and one of the largest apparel companies in the world, PVH works to maintain and promote sustainable business practices.
“One of the reasons we wanted to recognize these two companies here today was for the great work that they do, but also to inspire other companies. We hope that other companies will look at their model and say, ‘We should be doing that as well’, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh said.
She said the mission of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs is to “empower growth and secure our future”.
“This mission can’t be achieved through government policies alone. Companies and workers play an integral role and produce growth in local economies here in America and abroad. Smart, successful businesses with sustainable operations and community development will contribute to all of our success. Markets and operations around the world create jobs, create prosperity, create security, both at here – here at home and abroad,” she added.
In an interview with TODAY NEWS AFRICA’s Simon Ateba, Alaffia’s boss, dedicated the award to teamwork.
He thanked the women in his life, his mother, his wife, his two daughters as well as staff and others who have made his dream a reality.