Curated Story

In Memory of Marcelline Ouédraogo

This article originally appeared on Ashoka

The global Ashoka community deeply mourns the loss of Marceline Ouédraogo of Burkina Faso, founder of Groupement Férminin Songtaaba.

Elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 1996, Marceline helped transform shea butter, one of the few economic assets in Sahelian Africa controlled by women, from a less-than-subsistence, informal-sector activity into an income generating industry that advances the status of women as a driver of the formal economy.

Marceline turned shea butter processing into a system run by women, from production to marketing of a wide range of consumer products. She grew this undertaking from existing women's cooperative organizations and built an enterprise that is democratic – one that is as concerned with raising the status of women as it is with generating profits.

Marceline also worked with a local research institute to develop a new hybrid of the shea tree that bore fruit at a much faster rate, and built a factory in Ouagadougou to compete with large corporations in the cosmetic industry. Her innovations transformed a whole sector and helped women escape the tyranny of charity.

Ashoka Africa’s Network Advisor Coumba Toure remembers how in the beginning Marceline, with other women, made shea butter from her own hands. “Those who know the labor required for manual extraction and transformation of butter from the seed of shea will understand the transformative power of this woman,” Coumba said.

“Marcelline transformed lives, and a whole sector. She helped women escape the tyranny of ‘micro’ credit or charity. She built a factory in Ouagadougou, defying large corporations in the cosmetic industry.

“I will never forget that she is the person who taught me about 'geolocation.' She was looking for a technology to track all of her trucks as they brought back the seeds from across the country.

“Marcelline is testimony, if we need it, that everything good is possible, coming from almost nothing but the strength of women. She is now among the ancestors. She will shed light on the path of our grandchildren.”

Ashoka offers its deepest condolences to Marceline’s family, her organization and to a global community of friends and colleagues.

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