by Catherine Migueis (GSB ’12)
Financial success is important for any small business, but it is even more meaningful for the Amani Project, the Fair Trade operation at the Gabelli School of Business. The project’s students celebrated their most successful semester to date this fall, selling around $3,000 worth of Fair Trade merchandise crafted by artisans in Kenya.
The Amani Project, which was started and continues to be led by Professor Kate Combellick, began in 2006 with a service-learning trip to Kenya. The week-long trip unfolded into an ongoing relationship between Kenyan artisans — one group that specializes in jewelry, and another that does soapstone carving — and the Fordham students who took on the marketing of their goods to consumers back in the United States.
The students launching the business called it Amani, which means “peace” in Swahili. It has grown slowly and steadily in the last six years, with fall 2011 being a particularly banner semester.
Amani accounting team member Shannon McKenna (GSB ’14) credits the recent sales increase — which represents a 58-percent jump over the prior term, and an impressive 328-percent increase from Amani’s 2006 debut semester — to an expansion to craft shows and fairs outside Fordham. In addition to the fairs in the McGinley student center, where students have traditionally sold Kenyan goods to their classmates and peers, this year the Amani Project visited high schools and churches during the holiday season.
The new market provided a huge sales boost, not to mention a new audience to educate about Fair Trade and social justice. “It has shown me how business can promote a greater good, and that is influencing my career choice,” Shannon said.
Liz Andelora (GSB ’12), who helps to manage inventory, believes that Amani’s successful fall could not have been achieved without the particular students involved. “Our team was able to accomplish this through the immense amounts of dedication all class members put forth,” she said. “Everyone went above and beyond.”
With such dedicated participants, this group’s future looks bright. Tiffany Melillo (GSB ’13), who also helps coordinate inventory, said Amani hopes to expand its online presence so that customers can order directly from the Internet. She also anticipates the opening of a permanent student-staffed sales kiosk in the lobby of Hughes Hall, which will reopen after a renovation as the new home of the Gabelli School of Business. Amani students also will continue to pursue new sales methods.
Amani is unique in the variety and extent of its benefits. For the Kenyan artisans, selling their items fairly means that they can enjoy a living wage, which has an enormous impact on the quality of life in the impoverished region in which they live. The Fordham students get some very practical business experience and a firsthand look at the economic and social issues that affect people in the third world.
As a result, the students take away more than just a successful semester of sales. Liz reflected on the depth of the learning experience, saying that the project taught them about the “injustices faced by so many people in the world and about ways that we can help contribute to a solution.” Shannon remarked that, especially as Amani expands, it is in an ever-better position to “spread awareness to Fordham students to inspire them to really make a difference.”
And as the word spreads beyond Fordham’s gates, we can hope that Fair Trade and socially responsible business will grow as well.
Nairobi photograph by Oleg Znamenskiy / Shutterstock.com