Living Room Session: Increasing Benefit to Producing CountriesOct 17, 2023
During the September Living Room Session, we learned about how value addition programs can contribute to benefiting communities producing jewelry materials. We wanted to bring you this topic because we see it as a necessary part of your strategy in creating equitable systems in the jewelry industry that are both economically and culturally sustainable.
Our featured guests for this session were Namwezi Nicole Batumike (Gender and Responsible Sourcing specialist, Panzi Foundation), Lotanna Amina Okpukpara (Principal Partner and Gemologist, Mina Stones), and Ola Erogbogbo (Co-founder, Deinté Fine Jewelry). They shared practical ideas related to developing value addition programs such as gem cutting, jewelry production, and jewelry education in their respective countries and elsewhere. At the end of this post, you’ll also find ways to support these projects.
How Mina Stones works towards improving the livelihood of people along the gemstone value chain in Nigeria and Africa.
Lotanna Amina Okpukpara is a gemologist, an engineer, and CEO of Mina Stones, a vertically integrated social business based both in Nigeria and in the US. Mina Stones is involved in the gemstone value chain at every level, creating jewelry from the material sourced in Nigeria, other parts of Africa, and beyond. At the moment, Mina Stones is focusing on sapphires and tourmalines from Nigeria.
Amina talked about what in-country value addition means to her:
“For me, I want the idea of supporting ASM or artisans to shift from short-term projects, one off things that are just short-lived, to investments that will actually stand the test of time, and see that the local capacity is strong enough to sustain the efforts that are being made by some of these investments. So, in summary, I think for me it means a lot of things but I'll focus on in-country value addition, it means some kind of liberation and freedom for many people.”
The vision of Mina Stones is to bring value back to the source by establishing scalable solutions. That means bringing value to host countries and communities long-term so that basic human needs, such as food on the table and water to drink, are met. Amina also emphasized the importance of increasing the income of all the players along the chain, from mining to processing, in a sustainable way so that they're able to grow and develop, not just themselves but also their families and eventually communities around them. For Amina, success is not in Mina Stones alone but also in the ability to bring impact to the countries and communities involved.
Mina Stones directly impacts the lives of miners, artisans, and individuals who work in this community’s supply chain. Amina highlighted that the government, as well as local actors, associations, groups, and the private sector are all involved in the process. Only by working together, connecting, partnering, and collaborating will it be possible to make a major difference.
Deinté Fine Jewelry: telling the stories behind fine jewelry collections from Nigeria.
Ola Erogbogbo, together with her mother, runs a fine jewelry business (Deinté) in Nigeria which started off leveraging the fact that some in Nigeria have a high appetite for fine jewelry from outside of Nigeria. Her mom selling jewelry was a source of livelihood for their family, and Ola began to understand the true value of gemstones and raw materials in Nigeria and started to weave that into the fabric of Deinté's identity, introducing it inside and outside of Nigeria. Apart from Deinte, Ola Erogbogbo also currently runs a nonprofit called Doing Good Work in Africa that connects students in the US to African innovators.
Ola is motivated to create these in-country value addition programs and processes so that people can get trained, have access to resources, and fully realize their potential, not only in terms of income or taking care of their family. Unfortunately, many people in this community have limited resources and limited exposure to what they can potentially do. Ola then described what success would look like to her:
“I would love to see lots and lots of youths in Nigeria get involved in the jewelry industry from being designers to being involved in mining, to being able to own their own products and design and create and be able to export. So that's my idea of success and that's where I'm trying to go with what I'm doing. From being able to show as an example that it’s possible for someone to look like me and be able to achieve those things, to then creating work streams and pipelines that they can achieve similarly or more in a sustainable way.”
Part of the work that Ola does is sourcing gemstones, creating engagement rings, as well as researching and better understanding the history of Nigeria, history in other parts of Africa, and the stories and powerful characters that come from those places. Then, she builds what she learns into her collections and brings awareness to source countries by telling the story about where those stones come from, what is going on in that place, influential people from those parts of Africa, etc. One of the examples of such a collection is her Heritage Collection which was exhibited at the Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC) both during the 2023 JCK show in Las Vegas.
The Panzi Foundation and its mission to address the link between conflict minerals and sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Nicole Namwezi Batumike works with the Panzi Foundation, which supports Panzi Hospital as well as programs of the foundation. The Panzi Hospital was created in 1999 by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is a gynecologist and a human rights activist. In 2008, the Panzi Foundation was established and since then has been providing holistic care to survivors of sexual violence in Eastern DRC.
The Panzi Foundation launched its jewelry project in 2019 as part of the holistic care plan which includes economic opportunities for women. Since the beginning of the project, the foundation has been able to create workshops for faceting, polishing, and transforming stones into beautiful gems. Over 50 women have been trained.
Namwezi explains that having value addition and material transformation in the DRC gives better control over the upstream end of the value chain and, in that way, helps illustrate what is needed to provide benefit:
“... when we talk about development, if we want to talk about equality of gender, of classes and of nations, we really have to include value addition in the mix of what we bring when we come with development projects or even when we want to get involved with the ASM communities, I think that to also hear what their needs are and what their desires are is what is fair.”
The initial idea behind the jewelry project at the Panzi Foundation was to regain ownership of the DRC’s natural resources, gain a better understanding of how the sector works in general, and that way, provide the women with access to more opportunities. There’s no need to exclude other initiatives from the value chain, but the models need to change in a way that everyone gets equal access to those opportunities.
At the moment, the Panzi Foundation is working on creating the Panzi jewelry cooperative which will be separate from the Foundation. The goal is to create a financially sustainable model which would help build and increase commercial partnerships with other jewelers or retailers.
How can you support these projects?
- Jewelers can reach out to and collaborate with Mina Stones. There might be an opportunity to collaborate on impactful projects Mina Stones works with in order to address some of the challenges that the ASM miners and the artisans have. You can also support Mina Stones by purchasing its products. You can find out more about Mina Stones’ pieces on the company’s Instagram and website.
- Traditional retailers can support Deinté Fine Jewelry by buying pieces from its collections, displaying them in the store, and, most importantly, telling the stories that come along with those pieces. Ola Erogbogbo is currently looking for partners and networking opportunities to help her empower youth in the jewelry industry of Nigeria.
- The Panzi Foundation is seeking support through partnerships and donations. You can donate to the Panzi jewelry cooperative via the web page. Depending on the quantities, traditional retailers can also buy gemstones from the jewelry project and tell the story about where those pieces come from and what they support, this way, giving value to the source and the work people are doing.
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