Why I started a spice company.

Why I started a spice company.

Zanzibar is unique because of its diverse array of crops originating from the African continent and from more distant regions, including India and the Mediterranean. On a single farm, it’s not uncommon to find more than a dozen varieties of fresh spices, including cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon. Despite Zanzibar’s agricultural richness, barriers such as lack of access to markets, destructive climate change and inadequate infrastructure have stymied its potential, reducing “Spice Island” to a mere moniker.

For almost two decades, I worked in a variety of industries across North America, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Much of my early career entailed bridging gaps between corporate objectives for mineral extraction and equitable access and distribution of resources to local communities. Those were nascent days of corporate social responsibility, when the focus was on corporate image, not substantive changes to business practice.

As my career progressed, I saw firsthand the stark contrasts that underpin our global economy. In resource-rich countries, I observed how enduring colonial legacies continue to influence lives and local economies, often resulting in widespread poverty. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where local populations have little access to the wealth generated beneath their feet, I led a community investment plan tied to a mining project. I was fully aware that despite the mining project’s scale, the benefit to the communities would be marginal. In India and Nepal, I worked with governments to determine how to modernize forest-management practices that were rooted in a history of cutting down trees to benefit the colonial regime, with little benefit to local economies or consideration of local knowledge, needs and trade objectives.

Again and again, I saw variations of the same story, which left me thinking, “What does it take to create companies that genuinely foster sustainable and equitable development?”

Last year, I concluded that advising companies on environmental, social and governance issues and equity, diversity and inclusion wasn’t sufficient to “raise our wounded world into a wondrous one,” as American poet and activist Amanda Gorman put it. It was time to leverage my expertise to show that it was possible to do more. I established No Women No Spice, a direct trade, certified organic spice company that sources from farmers in Zanzibar, an archipelago off Tanzania.

I had travelled to Tanzania and the island province of Zanzibar many times for work and to visit family and was acutely aware of the region’s innovative approaches to climate change, equity and agriculture. At the same time, I witnessed the lingering impacts of colonialism. These experiences were instrumental in shaping my company’s mission to “reboot the spice route.”

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