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Alumna uses her social entrepreneurship studies to empower Ghanian women

Student-led CIO Enactus partners with Northshea to contribute to the company’s mission of alleviating extreme poverty

<p>Ghanian women in the village of Woricambo come together to create shea butter from the nuts of the karite tree indigenous to Africa.&nbsp;</p>

Ghanian women in the village of Woricambo come together to create shea butter from the nuts of the karite tree indigenous to Africa. 

An entrepreneurial and driven Class of 2018 alumna, Charity Malia Dinko has used the knowledge, connections and skills she acquired on Grounds to start her own shea butter business. The company, Northshea, is a social impact business committed to alleviating poverty and empowering women in northern Ghana. Born and raised in Ghana, Dinko witnessed the extreme poverty among local Ghanian women, particularly in her hometown village of Woricambo. 

After moving to the United States in 2010 on a visa lottery application and graduating from the University with a degree in African American and African studies and social entrepreneurship, Dinko knew that she wanted to find a way to help Ghanian women and create change within her community back home. 

“During my time taking social entrepreneurship classes, I used that time as an opportunity to help me define a problem that I had prior to coming to U.Va., which was women in my village in Ghana being exploited and also poverty being very paramount in the area,” Dinko said. 

In Ghana and other regions extending from west to east Africa, shea butter comes from the nuts of karite trees, a rather abundant natural resource that is indigenous to Africa. Using traditional methods, millions of Ghanian women crush the nuts to then extract, clean and boil the shea butter into a rich, non-toxic moisturizing lotion. Dedicated to addressing the issue of female joblessness in Ghana, Dinko realized that this natural resource could be used to enrich not only the skin of people around the globe, but also the lives of disadvantaged women across northern Ghana. 

Prior to starting her skincare business, Dinko tried selling jewelry on Etsy and sending the proceeds back to her village in Ghana, but she quickly learned that simply giving money was not a sustainable approach. She also established a micro-loans program to help people in Ghana start their own small businesses, but this proved unsuccessful as many of the Ghanian women lacked the necessary business knowledge and skills to build their own companies. 

“I was trying to figure out how to solve this issue of poverty and that took several turns,” Dinko said. “I can’t always be giving them money, but I had to find a way to help them support themselves long-term.” 

Upon graduating from the University in 2018, Dinko created a facility for local Ghanian women to continue producing shea butter while also earning a living wage. The company officially launched in August 2018, and Dinko created a website to promote the business as well as their merchandise. Since 2018, Northshea has been successful in providing economic stability to women in Ghana and lifting many out of extreme poverty. 

“The biggest impact we have created is financial freedom,” Dinko said. “There is one woman from my village who is a widow, and she is very grateful that she can now take care of her son's college fees and help him with transportation when he is trying to come back home.” 

Dinko credits Damon DeVito, a lecturer at the Darden School of Business, and McIntire-affiliated consulting CIO Enactus with helping the business grow and really take off. As a mentor at the University’s incubator program — and an entrepreneur himself — DeVito connected Dinko with resources in the Charlottesville community and recommended her for the accelerated incubator program at the University. 

“The best place for businesses is where there is a bit of an ecosystem with a lot of helpers because no one person or company can do everything,” DeVito said. “Entrepreneurs are trying to do something nobody in the history of the planet has done and that is hard.” 

Key to Northshea’s success was the introduction DeVito facilitated with Beth Johnson, the former program director of Blue Morning, who works with entrepreneurs in Charlottesville to help them develop and grow their ventures. Based in Charlottesville when it was active, Blue Morning supported the mission of founders and helped them expand their business to create a positive impact. 

“[Johnson] took me under her wings and taught me how to set the business up from scratch and everything I needed to know about how to sell a physical product,” Dinko said. 

In addition, Johnson suggested that Dinko work with Enactus to further her business’s publicity. Not long afterward, Dinko made the switch from Blue Morning to Enactus and solidified a partnership. In 2018, the student-run CIO played a central role in helping Northshea enter the retail industry and was able to get the company into its first local store called Darling Boutique, located on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. They pitched to other local stores as well and landed a spot on the shelves of Rebecca’s Natural Foods.

The CIO partners with a number of local Charlottesville businesses, specifically ventures focused on social responsibility. Its team of student consultants are eager to impact their community in a positive way and help local entrepreneurs reach their goals. They offer a range of consulting services and advice including marketing, research, event planning and outreach. 

Emily Xiao, third-year Commerce student and Enactus project leader, was very keen on working with Northshea and wanted to make an impact on the company’s mission. 

“I was just very attracted to its mission in bettering the livelihoods of Ghanian women and their children,” Xiao said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I loved their social impact … I’ve always had an interest in beauty products and so Northshea combined all of these very attractive and interesting elements.” 

Xiao explained that the work Enactus does for Northshea typically falls under two umbrella categories of outreach and research. This semester the team divided themselves into an outreach committee and a research committee to better address the company’s needs.

Throughout the spring semester, the outreach committee called a number of stores in the Charlottesville area and even a few in Richmond, which is where Northshea’s distribution and fulfillment center is currently located. The shea body butter is produced in the Richmond facility — which Dinko has been renting since 2020 — and the raw shea comes from a factory in Ghana. Enactus also compiled research reports on the business’s competitive advantage and the e-commerce industry to provide Dinko with potential retail expansion strategies. 

In addition to reducing the financial burden many Ghanian women face, Dinko also created a library in 2019 for children in Ghana and wants to make a difference in the education sector as well. She explained that over 300 kids attend the primary school in her hometown, but there are no desks and the children sit on the floor for most of the school day. In the next four to six months, Dinko hopes to increase Northshea’s revenue to the point where she can provide at least 350 desks for the local primary school. 

This semester, Enactus and Northshea organized a spring cleaning event. They collected school supplies, backpacks and clothes from the Charlottesville community and sent them to children in Ghana. To make this happen, they partnered with multiple apartment complexes off-Grounds to serve as drop-off locations, including Grandmarc, The Flats, Wertland Square, Lark, Crossroads and Jefferson Commons. They also established three dining halls as drop-off locations for students living on Grounds. 

To market the event, the Enactus team emailed U.Va. Sustainability and other CIOs and had U.Va. Dining repost flyers via Instagram. They also contacted local Charlottesville news station NBC29 to get the word out. 

“I think we have made progress through our time with Northshea,” said Abigail Vincill, third-year Commerce student and Enactus senior consultant, in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We have been able to put together meaningful research and a successful donation drive that benefits more than just the business.”

Vincill and Xiao both commented on how great it has been working with Dinko the past two semesters and explained that she truly embodies the entrepreneurial hustle. 

“It’s very exciting to hear about her future plans regarding her business, because in a way, we’ve watched her business grow over the past year,” Xiao said. 

DeVito expressed similar sentiments about Dinko’s character, noting how integral her attitude towards challenges have helped her come as far as she has. 

“It’s rare that somebody is so upbeat and has such positive energy, but is also persistent,” Devito said. “She has torque, and if you tell her she can’t do something, she is pretty much going to do it.”

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