BeadforLife is on a roll

Boulder-based company among nominees for MORE grant

Photo by Charles Steinberg

Here in Boulder, people place a lot of emphasis on sustainable living. For Boulderites, sustainability might mean energy efficiency and lowering the community’s carbon footprint. It might mean cultivating local food. But it also might mean creating and sustaining local businesses and jobs. For the impoverished women of Uganda, sustainability means developing an income source that is ongoing and allows them to give their children an education and an opportunity for a better life. What we assume as a right for all children in the U.S. is available only for those with the means to afford school in many Third World countries.

BeadforLife co-founder and executive director Devin Hibbard retells the story of one Ugandan woman, Furaha Christine, as an example. Christine joined BeadforLife’s 18-month entrepreneurial program after fleeing her army-occupied village and hiding in the African jungle for two weeks, all while pregnant and caring for her 2-year-old child. In BeadforLife’s program, Christine learned how to roll beads, saved her earnings and went on to open not one, but five businesses.

“Christine’s story is a story of amazing success,” Hibbard says. “From the moment she came in, she was determined to change her life and she sure has.”

Stories like Christine’s prompted MORE magazine, a national publication that advocates for “the woman who lives in a state of constant possibility,” to contact BeadforLife and ask them to be one of 10 women-run organizations participating in a year-long series and competition called “Hire Calling: MORE’s Job Genius Award.”

The purpose of the competition was to locate women-run organizations that were not just intending to do good, but actually accomplishing something measurable in offering disadvantaged women an opportunity to create a sustainable living. Judy Coyne, MORE’s executive editor, explains that the competition was the inspiration of their editor-in-chief, who wanted to do something to curb the recession’s effect on women.

“Women suffer particularly,” Coyne says. “They suffer both here in the States and around the world.”

The organizations selected to participate were presented in MORE magazine and on its website, and entered into a competition to win a $20,000 grant to further their work. After months of highlighting 10 carefully selected organizations, MORE’s readers were (and still are — voting ends on Aug. 31) encouraged to vote for the organization they feel most worthy of winning the grant.

Members of the MORE staff were already familiar with BeadforLife’s work, and the organization was contacted and gladly accepted.

BeadforLife was showcased in MORE magazine’s December 2011/January 2012 issue, which Hibbard calls an amazing honor. If awarded the grant, she says her organization plans to expand its efforts from teaching women how to make and market beads and Shea butter products (another local product that provides income for these women) to include women who already have other business ideas but are without the funds, knowledge and the market to make their businesses sustainable.

BeadforLife founders Devin Hibbard, Torkin Wakefield and Ginny Jordan

Last year BeadforLife touched more than 12,000 people in 1,400 households in Africa, Hibbard says. If they are awarded MORE’s grant, they will use the money to touch even more.

“Winning this award will allow us to engage with 100 new women and help them take their tiny businesses and grow them into something sustainable,” Hibbard says. “They will then have businesses that will support them and their families into the future.”

Among the qualifications voters in the MORE competition will consider are the organization’s eight-year history helping Ugandan women gain the training needed to develop and sustain businesses in their African communities, while marketing their products abroad. Co-founders Hibbard, Torkin Wakefield and Ginny Jordan — all from Boulder — were inspired to found the organization after the three traveled to Uganda to visit Hibbard’s stepfather (Wakefield is Hibbard’s mother and Jordan is a close family friend), who was working as a doctor with AIDS patients. On that trip, the women met Ugandan women who were creating beads from paper. They bought some, and were constantly given compliments on the beads. They started establishing a market for the beads by purchasing them through a contact in Uganda. Their beads are now online and in 50 retail outlets.

BeadforLife also works with another Boulder-based organization, International Midwife Assistance, which provides reproductive health care and education to Ugandan woman. In most Ugandan communities, only one out of 24 women has access to birth control. With funding from BeadforLife, access to birth control in the regions they work in has increased 4,000 percent, according to Jennifer Braun, International Midwife Assistance’s executive director.

They also work with local schools, like Alexander Dawson School, to involve students in community service projects that aim to help them understand the reality of poverty.

“Kids that do volunteer work with BeadforLife usually get so exited about it,” says Doyen Mitchell, who worked as the Dawson School’s community service coordinator for 15 years, “They’re excited about what BeadforLife does for for these Ugandan women, and their part in helping Ugandan bead makers become self-sufficient.”

Visit for additional information on the BeadforLife campaign with MORE.