Ssanyu Birigwa and her sister Mirembe have two words for the struggling economy:
After losing jobs as a waitress and an executive assistant at a non-profit, the sisters didn’t get down on themselves — they got creative.
“Since things got bad, we decided starting a foundation would be a way for us to totally focus our thoughts on helping other people,” Mirembe said. “It was a way we could focus less on the amount of help [my sister and I] actually needed.”
And that’s exactly how the sisters started the Peace and Happiness Foundation. The non-profit focuses on improving the lives of underprivileged communities in Uganda, where the sister’s father was born.
“I always had a really strong foundation of my African-ness,” said Ssanyu, 31. ”[Mirembe and I] would always travel back to Uganda when we were younger to visit.”
The sisters were in Uganda earlier this month, meeting and talking with many women and children who have been impacted by rebel violence.
“So many women have been displaced because of conflicts between guerrilla rebels and [the Ugandan] government,” Ssanyu said. “The violence has separated families and children from their homes.”
So the sisters found a way to help — shea butter.
“This wonderful Ugandan shea butter is produced right there in the villages,” Ssanyu said of the country’s natural resource. “There is a local market, but we thought our foundation could help distribute the butter beyond Uganda.”
Simply put, the sisters want Ugandan shea butter on the shelves of major retail outlets like Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Both sisters describe the Ugandan shea butter as a softer and creamier alternative to West-African varieties, most of which are already available in brands such as Jergens.
The foundation has already partnered with several small businesses in Boston, where Ssanyu resides. Within ten months, proceeds from sales of the shea butter will go directly towards programs to benefit the Ugandan women and children they met on their trips.
The potential programs range from assisting an Ugandan orphanage to better preparing Ugandan women in business.
“Although we don’t have jobs, we have resources, a network and support many in Uganda just don’t have,” Mirembe said. “We took a huge risk — but nothing can ever happen without taking a huge risk.”