Wilson to address the power of social entrepreneurship for Assembly Series

Buy a basket, improve lives

Theresa Wilson, founder and executive director of the Blessing Basket Project, will give the Women’s Society of Washington University Adele Starbird address at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 15 in Graham Chapel, on the Washington University in St. Louis Danforth Campus. 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 non-profit enterprise that connects weavers in under-developed countries to markets in developed countries, thus 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 Blessing Basket 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” which led to her “A Ha!” moment. She and her husband, Bryan set to work identifying weavers and receiving shipments which 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 a 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 well, and start farms.

While struggling to keep the new project going, Wilson met Shelby Gadberry, an MBA student at Washington University who introduced her to the Olin Business 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 WUSTL are working with students in Wilson’s African communities, studying how efficiently and effectively her operation works.

For more information on this Assembly Series program, check the Web page at http://assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call 314-935-4620. The next series will begin in September 2009.