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Vital Voices Global Partnership, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and ExxonMobil, has been a partner of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) a program to increase the integration of African businesswomen into the global economy through training, increased trade relations and business activity with U.S. businesses and the U.S. Government.

On June 8-10, 2011, Zambia hosted the 2011 AWEP Conference at the AGOA Forum. One notable business leader in attendance was Sandra Kasonso, CEO and Founder of Magic Hands of Africa (MHA). In her role as a panelist for the conference session, “Doing Business While Doing Good,” Sandra shared her business experiences, CSR efforts and ambitions with participants.

While reflecting on her experience speaking at the AWEP Conference, Sandra graciously shared her story with me. It is an inspirational tale of a woman who transformed a small beading business into a successful company that now supports over 100 individuals in Zambia. 

Before founding Magic Hands of Africa, Sandra began beading as a hobby. In 2005, after training two women in her handicraft, Sandra turned her hobby into a trading business, operating under the name Ndona’s Beads and Crafts. As a result of one customer’s positive response to their products, Sandra was nominated to attend Vital Voices of Africa: A Leadership Summit for Women and Girls, hosted by Vital Voices in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. It was during this conference that Sandra interacted with successful women leaders who inspired her and encouraged her to expand her vision to uplift the lives of women.

With an initial personal investment of K50,000 the equivalent of $10, Sandra and her business partner, Angela Makena, founded Magic Hands of Africa. “Now, who forms a company with just $10?” Sandra asked the audience of African women leaders and entrepreneurs at the AWEP Forum “But that’s all we had.” In spite of the economic challenges they confronted and with limited resources available, Sandra and her business partner worked tirelessly to teach their skill to more women in the community. Now, four years later, MHA works with 20 women and youth in Kalikiliki, a densely populated, informal settlement in Lusaka, Zambia.

Working in one of Lusaka’s poorest communities, Sandra has an obligation to incorporate socially responsible practices into her business model. She not only provides income through employment in MHA, but she gives women the opportunity to learn a skill. MHA has paid out over 40 million kwacha, approximately $8,300, as take home pay to the women. This money has fed families, paid medical bills, improved shelter and kept girls and boys in school. As Sandra’s mother, Margaret Kasonso, proudly asserted, “Helping the women is not a one-off thing for Sandra but it is her life and she is very passionate about it. She faces considerable challenges in pursuing her goal but the passion and the support from Vital Voices has kept her going.”

Since 2007, Vital Voices has continued to support Sandra in her unrelenting efforts to empower women in Zambia.  An alum of Vital Voices’ Entrepreneurship in Handicrafts Program, Sandra organized a Mentoring Walk in Zambia in 2008 and mentored other aspiring business women. In her position as a valued Vital Voices network member, she most recently recounted her experiences to the AWEP attendees. Afterwards, she received positive feedback from numerous noteworthy individuals, including the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. She was delighted and thrilled to meet with Ambassador Verveer, who encouraged her to take advantage of her opportunity to attend the Forum and to continue build on the connections created. As she exclaimed, “The response has been overwhelming. Hopefully, with the new connections I have made through AWEP, I will be able to employ more women and expand my business.”

Sandra, we salute you for your remarkable accomplishments. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

For more information on Magic Hands of Africa, please visit their website.

Read about Sandra’s experience organizing a Mentoring Walk in 2010.