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  • Writer's pictureChristina Sjahli

Impact Starts and Ends in the Same Place - at Home with Alicia Wallace

Social enterprises strive to create a significant and lasting impact on the world. It’s a cause as challenging as it is noble. It’s a journey of discovery involving experiments, trials, changes, and continuous refinements. Such is the journey of Alicia Wallace and All Across Africa.

On top of their efforts to make an impact, Alicia and her team continue to collaborate with others to work toward their purpose every day. By working with African families, they’ve created and refined a people-powered approach to enriching lives. All Across Africa is an excellent example of what you can achieve by listening to people you are helping. They also work with impact partners to maximize their potential and truly make a difference.

Today, we talk about how Alicia and All Across Africa determined what it takes to drive social change and elevate lives. We also cover the importance of having the means and resources to carry out your purpose.

How All Across Africa Came to Be

When Alicia was still in college, she had what most would call a “typical” plan for many economics students. She wants to complete her degree, pursue an MBA, and climb the corporate ladder. But all that changed because of a trip to Sierra Leone, a country in Africa. There, she witnessed firsthand the lack of opportunities for the locals, from healthcare to education and career. This left a profound impact on her and led her to finding Greg Stone of the nonprofit Rwanda Partners.

On a trip to Rwanda, Alicia worked with Greg to sponsor the education of 300 kids. The mothers expressed their gratitude for the program but lamented the real reason their kids aren’t in school. It’s not because they lacked the knowledge. Rather, it was because they did not have a safe home, food on the table, and the opportunity for work.

This sentiment left a mark on Alicia. She says, “Those were really impactful words that we had to listen to and say, ‘Is it education first? Or is it solving basic needs?’ And how do we create those jobs?

This idea was at the core of the birth of All Across Africa. She continues, “That became the big question at All Across Africa when we launched in 2013. [It] was really zeroing in and focusing on creating jobs and alleviating poverty in that way, providing women that income and the dignity to send their own kids to school and access education on their own at the right time for their family.

Job Creation and the Cooperative Business Model

Alicia and her team began by experimenting with job creation. They observed that introducing new creations or products into the market simply didn’t cut it. It came at the cost of the livelihood of local women selling produce that already exists. This led to a massive shift in All Across Africa’s mindset, and they zoned in on the export market. They wanted to export products to bring in U.S. dollars and increase demand.

The organization saw big results. Alicia says, “Now that artisan is going to the marketplace with new US dollars we wired into the country and re-introduced into her hands, she could afford meat, she could afford pineapple, tomatoes, whatever. Now that person she’s paying has additional income and a job.

Throughout all this, All Across Africa almost naturally adopted the co-op model because of how prevalent it was in Rwanda. The locals already had training and understood the structure. This made the model an obvious choice for All Across Africa.

“Everyone belongs to a co-op and understands that it provides additional safety nets,” Alicia shares. With co-ops, locals can manage business risks and plan for the future.

Seeing its success, Alicia and her team introduced the model to Uganda and Ghana, where it was less familiar.

All Across Africa: Driving Social Change with Artisan Goods

The organization works with five countries. There are 104 cooperatives that produce and sell art to them.

Working with the Locals

They partner with local women who can handcraft about three products per day to make a living wage. All Across Africa also trains artisans on quality, production, and manufacturing. Likewise, the organization:

  • Collaborates with retailers

  • Work with global designers

  • Does a forecast trend on the products

  • Establishes the cooperatives

  • Holds them accountable

Far from a transactional relationship, they have always worked in close collaboration with the locals. Alicia says, “They’re providing value to us, but we are additionally providing them with the leadership support and the capacity to run a successful co-op.

Working with Non-Public Benefit Corporations

As Alicia discussed, All Across Africa aims to enrich the lives of African women artisans and their families. Like other social enterprises, they are in the business of helping people and changing the world. It’s the complete opposite of non-public benefit corporations that mainly serve their shareholders. Nonetheless, All Across Africa partners with these big businesses.

She says, “We’re seeing these brands and companies really understanding that you can’t just be about shareholder interest. You really have to be about people and planet, or consumers are going to turn against you.

Despite having different goals and visions, there is value in working together. In fact, the organization benefits from these businesses and vice versa. Partnering with All Across Africa communicates to their customers that these big companies care about the people and the planet. As a result, both parties expand their social impact.

Moreover, All Across Africa earns more because these corporations are willing to pay more. This shows that they agree with the organization’s standards of wage and quality.

Growing Revenue, Expanding Impact

Revenue is the driving source for every business. All Across Africa’s work with big companies and foundations contributes to their revenue. But there’s always pressure to aim for growth because it’s through their revenue that they can create a bigger impact.

Alicia highlights that this revenue should be sustainable. This means environmental sustainability, but it goes beyond that. It’s also about the organization’s longevity and its impact’s longevity. It should not be risky, and it should not put the business in jeopardy.

She shares, “[We’re] in it for the long run, [this] isn’t just something that we’re going to do for the next few years. But that in our lifetime, we will continue to pursue this mission until poverty across Africa is alleviated.

The Cooperative Business Model & Impact Strategy

All Across Africa’s impact strategy revolves around the number of jobs created and the quality of these jobs. They track the impact of these factors on the lives of the artisans and the economy as a whole.

To measure the impact, Alicia and her team engaged with the artisans, visiting their homes and listening to their needs. She stresses how crucial it is to learn and listen to the people you serve. It builds consistency and camaraderie.

They then determined five impact pillars that illustrate how the artisans’ lives have improved. These impact pillars are:

  1. Access to safe housing

  2. Ability to put food on the table

  3. Access to education

  4. Access to healthcare

  5. Ability to save 10% of their income

And as these families earn more, it also increased spending and the demand for local jobs.

She says, “For every artisan, there was 1.5 jobs created locally in their economy, and I mean right down to saving more money at the bank. So there was a higher demand for bank teller. People are fixing their roofs, so contractors have more work. So it was really amazing to get to see that.”

Impact Strategy Creation & Impact Reporting

Alicia highlights that being on the ground and working directly with the artisans was really important for All Across Africa. They have also partnered with consultants, universities, professors, and students to develop a framework to measure their impact. In particular, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship was a huge help. The institution is dedicated to helping social enterprises measure their impact.

For Alicia, the takeaway is social enterprises don’t have to do everything on their own. They seek the help of experts and partners to help them measure their impact and tell their story.

She says, “Finding impact partners is a key to that strategy. You know, learning and knowing it yourself, living and breathing it, and having the questions asked, but at the same time, finding others along the way that can add value to it and help you accelerate that is really important.

To keep track of everything, All Across Africa always takes the time to check in with how the artisans are faring.

Alicia’s Proudest Moment in Her Impact Journey

Seraphine is just one of the many Rwandan women that All Across Africa has helped. Alicia proudly talks about this mother of seven, who used to live in rural Rwanda in a two-bedroom home with mud brick walls and a dirt floor. Now, Seraphine has a four-bedroom house with a back area housing four cows. Her family is thriving, and her husband no longer has to break his back from farming all day.

The joy in their eyes and smiles is easily one of Alicia’s proudest moments. Alicia simply states, “There was joy,” pertaining to her last visit to Seraphine’s home.

Learn More About Alicia and All Across Africa

Alicia Wallace is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of All Across Africa. It is an organization focused on people-powered transformation that aims to change the lives of African families. They have cooperatives in Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, and Tanzania.

Alicia and her team want to drive social change and create jobs with ethical handcraft production throughout Africa. She is also one of Inc’s 100 Female Founders.

You can connect with Alicia on LinkedIn. You can also find out more about All Across Africa on their website.

Revenue generation is vital for any social enterprise looking to pursue its mission in the long run. As Alicia highlights, consistent and big revenues help them continue the journey toward sustainability. She also stresses the importance of tapping experts to help you take steps forward. After all, you can’t do everything by yourself. Noble missions take the help of a village.

Do you want to help your organization achieve its purpose and remain sustainable? A virtual CFO can help you devise a plan that considers your goals, passions, and reasons for doing what you do. And at Profit Reimagined, that is exactly our goal. Visit our website or book a discovery call with us to see what we stand for and how we help social enterprises strengthen their teams.


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