Praxède Lévesque Lapointe is the CEO of Karité Delapointe, which is a business that works with a women’s cooperative in Burkina Faso in order to produce fair trade products like organic shea butter, lip balms, essential oils, soaps and more health- and socially- conscious natural cosmetic products.
SocialBusiness.org got the chance to interview Praxède Lévesque Lapointe on how Karité Delapointe developed and where she draws her inspiration, which tends to be in the natural environment.
Four Questions with Praxède Lévesque Lapointe
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
It all started in 2000 when my husband had a desire to work in international cooperation and wanted to live an agricultural experience abroad. He left for Burkina Faso as a volunteer with the International Cooperation Study Center (CECI). During 8 months, Daniel Lapointe worked to commercialize shea butter at the highest and best price possible, as he realized that the market price was not enough to give the producers a decent income. He also helped them with techniques of producing and standards of quality that were superior, and allowed the women to ask for a better price, as well as commercialize for an international market with higher consumer standards. When he came back to Canada, we started to import shea butter in the fair trade spirit. Working directly with women’s producers of the community of Leo and cutting to the minimum the intermediaries, we knew it could make a big difference for all the villages involved. And we are proud to say that 10 years later it really does make a difference, as the region of Leo has had outstanding economic and sociological changes in that period of time. And the coop we work with is constituted of over 3000 women from 30 villages whose lives have been greatly improved, as well as their children’s.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
We were both always strongly convinced of the organic sustainable way of life. We also have being farming organically since 1979 and producing organic maple syrup. When we discovered shea butter and all its wonderful and polyvalent properties, we thought we should bring this natural health and body care product to North Americans who are conscious of the need to rid their shelves of chemicals. Our goal was also to keep supporting the women of Burkina Faso in the fair trade fashion and keep a direct link with the producers. As it turns out, there is a lot of similarities between the production of maple syrup and that of shea butter! We have been able to integrate simple techniques used with maple syrup into the production of the butter. It has greatly improved the women’s butter quality as well as lowering their load of manual work.
We wish every family had their fair trade 100 percent pure shea butter balm at home because of all the possible usages and the goodness it provides -- and we know what an amazing impact it has on the lives of the Africans. We consider it to be a true North-South exchange that is a beneficial for all involved.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
We have a good knowledge of plants and essential oils properties so we basically get our inspiration from our environment and nature. We want everything to be as natural as possible, with the least transformation. Surely, since the beginning, the women of Burkina Faso have been our main source of inspiration -- seeing their courage and dignity!
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I always invite everyone to share their ideas and take special interest in what the consumer has to say. My employees are also a great source of creativity and I highly value their input. This business has started in a spirit of cooperation and sharing of wealth and knowledge and I try to keep that spirit alive in my daily actions. Once a year, a few members of Leo come and visit us in Québec and it is a privileged moment for us to share, exchange and be in contact with the source of our inspiration: African women. It brings a wonderful African wind to our wings and our organization. I am also privileged to have visited the women of Leo twice now, and this only makes our collaboration stronger and it deepens my understanding of their daily challenges.