The Dignity of Income

  • 3 min read

Hear from Gifty Serbeh-Dunn, our co-founder, about how Baraka started and its founding values.

“Income not charity…”

Those words and that theme, repeated frequently by women in communities where I grew up, really formed the foundation for Baraka.

I left Ghana as a teenager to go to school in Canada. Whenever I went home, I would always try to bring gifts and needed items, as much as could be carried on flights and covered by my budget. This continued and increased after Wayne and I were married. He began working in Ghana and making frequent trips there.

The women were always grateful for whatever we brought. However, as much as they appreciated our generosity, what they really wanted was the dignity and sustainability of income, not charity and philanthropy.

Gifty and Kabore with women in Tapko, a village near where she grew up

We discussed with them about how we might support them and invariably ended up focusing on shea butter. This was the early 2000s and, while shea butter was not as popular and well known as it is now, the women were aware that there was a market for it in North America and Europe. They just had no idea how to reach it and they looked to me, as someone living in North America, to help them.

I knew that no matter how hard we tried, the gifts and things we could bring on our trips would never make much difference or be sustainable. 

I started by getting Wayne to bring home some shea butter from Ghana and then making products from it. I discovered that I loved making products from shea butter. 

After researching and learning about formulations, I began making and trying to sell products. This was the beginning of my business Shea Butter Market. I still operate it and have become very familiar with formulating and making products with shea butter. I totally enjoy chatting with Baraka customers about their formulations and challenges. I have to give our friends at the School of Natural Skincare credit though – their courses and support have been incredible.


Anyway, on to the creation of Baraka’s foundation of income, not charity…   

Wayne, ever the businessperson, started to think that there must be others who would like to buy pure, handcrafted shea butter directly from communities in Ghana. With his background in social responsibility, sustainability, and community development he wove the theme of community impact into the business from day one.

It started small with a few sales happening here and there as I was busy with Shea Butter Market. Wayne was busy with his consulting and training work through the CSR Training Institute, which took him all over the world training, advising, lecturing and writing on business and sustainability, advising corporations, governments and organizations of all sorts.

In 2013 we adopted the name Baraka, which means thank you in Wali, the local language where Baraka’s shea butter is made (it has Arabic roots, coming from an Arabic word meaning blessings). Slowly, with help and support from many, Baraka’s impact driven business model, along with the incredible quality of the handmade shea butter the women made, created more and more awareness, sales and, most importantly, engaged everyone in Baraka’s impact mission.

Gifty and Tapko Widow’s Group after a meeting regarding income opportunities

When the pandemic hit, Wayne wound down his consulting and training work (he said he hated the thought of doing Zoom lectures and training) and focused full time on Baraka. We brought in more team members with tons of experience and energy. As the business is growing we are able to have more and more impact – all because of the way it is designed around impact and the incredible customers and Baraka Clan members that have embraced that model.

We are still a small, family-owned business but will keep working to grow so we can impact more and more women, families and communities in Ghana. Today, thanks to all of you, we provide a significant portion of the annual cash income to over 2,000 families in rural Ghana, affecting the households and the over 6,000 children that live there.

You can also listen to Gifty’s recent interview on CBC’s North by Northwest with Sheryl Mackay.

Thanks to all of you for making this impact possible and helping us to sustain it.

– Gifty