Adam Boehler, the Chief Executive Officer of the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) (PHOTO/Courtesy)WASHINGTON – U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Akola PBC today announced that DFC has provided a $5 million loan to Dallas, Texas-based Akola. DFC’s financing will help the impact-driven jewelry brand and manufacturing business—particularly the women that it employs in rural Uganda—weather the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Women reinvest most of their earnings in their families and communities and are a powerful driver of prosperity and stability in Uganda and beyond. With just a little bit of support, they can deliver outsized impact in their communities,” said DFC Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler. “DFC’s financing will help Akola continue its work to provide economic opportunities and uplift Ugandan women. Our collaboration comes at a critical time as COVID-19 continues to leave underserved individuals—disproportionately women—even more vulnerable around the world.”
“Akola was founded on the belief that job creation is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty,” explains Akola’s CEO, Sheeba Philip. “This is why it was crucial that we did everything possible to ensure the women we employ as part of our operations in Uganda kept their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. We quickly shifted our focus to product experiences that meet consumer needs and reflect the changing retail environment, such as our DIY Bracelet Kits. We are grateful for the partnership with DFC, which helps ensure we can continue to offer Akola women living wage employment so they can provide for their families.”
As a result of COVID-19, many major retailers have backed out of orders and brands have trimmed production, putting global artisans and factory workers already living in extreme poverty out of work. Yet in the wake of the pandemic, Akola has continued its mission and commitment to the women it serves, working creatively to ensure that the hundreds of Ugandan women who work for the company have all remained employed.
DFC’s financing is structured to support these efforts, funding critical working capital needs that help Akola continue to provide stable wages and benefits through the pandemic to its all-female Ugandan workforce. Eventually, the loan will also support a new production facility and additional employees, enabling Akola to continue focusing on growing demand through its e-commerce platform, which in turn will help the company become more resilient to future market shocks.
Akola, which means “she works” in the local dialect, was founded by Brittany Underwood after spending a summer teaching English in Jinja, Uganda during college. Once a small operation of 15 women making jewelry under a tree in 2007, Akola today employs nearly 200 women in rural Uganda. All Akola jewelry is handcrafted in Uganda using locally-sourced, sustainable materials and is sold worldwide.
The women employed by Akola in Uganda usually serve as the primary providers for their families, and the vast majority lived in extreme poverty before working for the company. In addition to a stable income, Akola also provides ongoing training and mentorship to its Ugandan employees through nonprofit partner Akola Academy. Akola Academy provides leadership and financial literacy training to foster long-term economic independence. Sixty-six percent of Akola women in Uganda own a home and 79 percent of Akola children are enrolled in school.
DFC’s investment advances its 2X Women’s Initiative, which has catalyzed more than $3 billion of private sector investment in projects that empower women in developing countries. Through 2X, DFC plays a key role in the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), which marks the first whole-of-U.S. Government approach to empowering women globally and is spearheaded by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump. DFC’s investment also advances the Administration’s Prosper Africa initiative, which aims to channel the tools and resources of the U.S. Government to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa.