Baraka Sheabutter – an Ecommerce Brand That Aligns Social Impact & Profitability Together15 min read

The world is increasingly looking to adopt eco-friendly options in our day-to-day lives. The shift towards eco-consciousness and sustainability is now the expected benchmark for businesses world wide. And we can see brands across the globe prime themselves to this shift. Multiple corporations are taking up sustainability projects as a passion project to get in the goodbooks of their customers. But most often, these passion projects are isolated initiatives and are not built into their business model.

This is where Baraka Sheabutter has cracked the code. This ecommerce brand can be considered the pioneer of a holistic sustainable business model. Prof. Wayne Dunn has successfully created a global ecommerce network that ventures in wholesaling, D2C, leveraging sustainable private labels & small scale DIY labels on the sales side; while on the other hand have created a system for community building, reforestation, and zero waste systems on the environmental stewardship side. 

Yeah, that was a lot to process even for us. And if you’re like us, you must be wondering how an ecommerce business could even dream such complex and ambitious structures of workflows, and on top of it, tie it all together in a single flowing system. And if other businesses can also find their own profitable way to make a social impact on their own terms. 

To gain insights on how they managed to pull off such a feat, and how businesses can become a sustainable and profitable model like the one they’ve created, we sat with Mr. Dunn on a call.

Here’s what Mr.Dunn had to say about it.

Let me start off with a question you might be very often asked. How did you establish a business with such a strong vision? And also, could you tell us a bit about the history of Baraka shea butter?

Two things drove the start of Baraka. One of my founders is from Northern Ghana, and we were married. And we were often bringing things back and helping the women in villages around where she grew up in Northern Ghana. The women basically said, you know, we want income, not charity. We love that you bring us stuff, but we want to earn an income, not be dependent on you, and we have more control on our finances. 

My wife was making some products out of shea butter, and I was bringing it back at the time. And because I was doing consulting, I had a consulting and training agency, the Corporate Social Responsibility Training Institute, we were on the cutting edge of theory and practice in the space where business meets community. This was 20 years ago, when we focused on Millennium Development Goals before the sustainable development goals. We eventually started realizing that there was a role to play on social and environmental issues and the leading businesses were finding that it didn’t have to come at a cost, it could be a strategic opportunity. So I was consulting and training on that, all over the world. And Baraka sort of started up as a hobby. As my wife was already making products out of shea butter, I thought, well, if people want to buy it, maybe we can find a way to sell it, it’ll give more income for the women and in the community. And that’s how it started.

It wasn’t until 2013-2014 did we finally ship a full container of products. Our main focus was on consulting and training, I was doing lectures and programs all over the world and, and what I started to find was that, the way I built Baraka the way we had aligned social impact, environmental stewardship, and business strategy and brand was making a great story was making a great case study for my lectures, as the model of sustainability resonated world wide. And not to mention, it was a very slow business. 

Paralelly, there was a rise in the need of natural organic skincare and cosmetics products, where people were interested in knowing what goes into making these products and what’s the story of the makers. And, Baraka was providing that story, which was rooted and was both authentic and amateurish.

I started working with, as you guys had a clear value proposition – there was no cost to having you monitor my shipments. And catch the ones that were late and delayed and I knew there was a lot more you could do.That really drove the start of Baraka, and as we started to reach out more into D2C as we could meet the needs of the markets.

As the pandemic approached, we had to rethink our entire operations, as until then, we were mostly doing bricks and mortar and craft fairs while the whole world was shutting down. I never dreamed of such a change until then and I could see that people were being sent home. I also knew there was this growing interest in DIY in the natural and organic skincare market, people wanted to make their own products and know what goes into their products. So literally, on the flight home, I came up with this strategy of sizing down our products, we didn’t have a thing under five kilograms. At that point, I took them down to 500 grams and started to work out a marketing strategy, an order fulfillment strategy that would let us adjust to the pandemic and become a D2C brand. 

Once we started to go down, we had different marks, we had to get faster and sharper on our marketing, but we also had to get more efficient on our fulfillment. And I think it was around that time, maybe sooner that I started working with late shipment, because you know, you guys were you, you had such a clear value proposition, there was no cost to having you monitor my shipments. And, you know, and catch the ones that were late and delayed and, and I knew there was a lot more you could do, and I just never got around until recently to really take advantage of what you could do. That really drove the start of Baraka, and as we started to reach out more into, you know, some D2C, but I’ll call it a quasi-D2C because we’re selling to people who make their own product, or maybe they make it and, and sell a little bit online or to share it with family. So it’s not quite a consumer but they were really resonating with the brand’s story and that authenticity, and the fact that we could demonstrate the impact their purchases were having.

We’re very clear in the fact that Baraka on its own will not have any impact on women and communities in Ghana, period. We only have that impact, because our customers buy into that process. And we try to give our customers content that support them in their conscious purchasing decisions and allow them for our business customers. 

We try to give them content that can help support them in their own marketing so that their customers can know the impact that they’re having. So we’ve even created an entire framework for it called “Your impact”. I mean, some people give our business credit for it and that’s just the way it goes but our business works, when we connect social and environmental impact in our far upstream reaches in the impoverished rural villages where we work with impact for our customers are getting high quality product that they can know and see where it comes from product that their customers love. And they get there feeling good from buying and using those products? Because they know they’re making an impact. That was a long answer. I think I answered more than one question. Sorry.

That really was a very informational load. It covered quite a few of the other questions I had to thank you so much for that. Your model is not only inspiring, but also was so clearly articulated, which lets us know that it's not always a straight path from A to B, or a combination of a variety of decisions sometimes taken on the fly, the collective impact that the customers as suppliers have on the ecosystem as a whole. Related to that, an interesting part that as well about your business, I think one of the other undulations that your business has, was that you started out primarily doing retail, direct to consumers, but then kind of branched out from there and also doing white label raw material sale to larger businesses, which don't have their own retail labels, right. So what was the transformation like?