One person can make a difference

Theresa Wilson, founder and executive director of the Blessing Basket Project, will give the Women’s Society Adele Starbird address at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 15, in Graham Chapel.

Her talk, “Making a Purchase that Makes a Difference: The Blessing Basket Project,” will be the final program in the Assembly Series’ spring schedule. It is free and open to the public.

Founded in 2004, the Blessing Basket Project is a nonprofit enterprise that connects weavers in underdeveloped countries to markets in developed countries, improving the lives of thousands of men, women and children living in six African nations while providing unique baskets that can’t be found anywhere else.

More than 90 Whole Foods Market stores nationwide carry the distinctive and colorful baskets. With their incomes from the project, weavers have become entrepreneurs in their own villages, expanding farms, building schools and creating more sustainable environments for future generations.

Wilson’s powerful story of transformation began with a personal crisis. Sympathetic supporters sent her cards and letters, and a basket in which to place them.

She began to think of it as her “blessing basket.” She and her husband, Bryan, set to work identifying weavers and receiving shipments that they delivered to stores. Soon, Wilson was learning their personal stories, such as a Ugandan woman who was caring for 13 children, nine grandchildren and three relatives on less than $2 per day.

Thanks to Wilson’s project, this woman and thousands of others, are now receiving wages higher than the norm in their area and using their earnings to send their children to school, feed them and start farms.

While struggling to keep the project going, Wilson met Shelby Gadberry, a WUSTL MBA student who introduced her to the Olin School’s “hatchery” program. She entered the Skandalaris Center’s competition that provides start-up funds for social entrepreneurial ideas, and Wilson won $20,000 in the “bootstrap” category. To her surprise, the Blessing Basket Project went on to win a $200,000 grant from the Skandalaris Family Foundation.

With the grant, Wilson began the operation in earnest, complete with a warehouse and a couple of staff members. Today, several faculty members at Washington University are working with students in Wilson’s African communities, studying how efficiently and effectively her operation works.

For more information, call 935-4620 or visit