It's been 28 years since the song Do they know it's Christmas by Bob Geldof and his band of popular musicians told us of a 'hopeless' continent 'where nothing ever grows'. The song encouraged us to donate to Africa, and doubtless some of the money given had a positive impact during a humanitarian crisis. Almost 30 years on however it's time for our attitudes to change. Many things do grow in Africa and more and more products are even made there too. So this festive season, why not buy your presents from Africa and choose donations that invest in economic growth.
The arguments in favour of trade replacing aid have been gathering pace for some years. The African continent is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies and increasing African exports can only continue this welcome trend. Promisingly, whilst consumers' choice for African charitable donations has been plentiful for years, their choice of African products to buy is also beginning to develop. Retailers around the world are gearing up for Christmas and African suppliers are ready to get in on the act. So what African products are out there this Christmas and where can we buy them?
The majority of African products available on the shelves are in the form of raw materials, such as cocoa or Shea Butter, making up one element of a larger purchase. In this category, what better gift could you buy for a chocolate lover than a selection from Divine Chocolate that sources all its cocoa from a West African co-operative? Or if you're looking for beauty products for your loved one, look out for those that source their materials fairly from Africa - Shea Butter products from the Body Shop for example use raw materials from a community fair trade association in Northern Ghana.
Whilst supplying these products has a positive impact on communities, if African countries are going to take the next step, they will need to start adding local value to their raw materials through manufacturing. Various reports from the UN highlight growth in African manufacturing as the key to its long term route from poverty and the social enterprise that I represent, Alive & Kicking, is contributing to this development. We invest in our own sports ball factories in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana and this year, for the first time, you can buy our African made footballs in John Lewis outlets across the UK and on-line.
Our promotion, 'Balls For Africa', combines charity and consumerism, as for every ball bought, a second ball will be donated to a Kenyan school or children's project. Importantly, both balls are made in Kenya, adding economic value to the country and hopefully playing a small role in dispelling a local view that top quality goods aren't made there. In the next decade I think we'll see many more African made products, with and without charitable angles, appearing on our shelves.
So, if you want to help African communities this Christmas buy from them and invest in their already burgeoning growth. To help you choose your African gift, here are my suggestions in the categories of raw material, manufactured product, and donations that invest.
1. Gift that makes a great use of African Raw materials - Divine Chocolate Essential Christmas Gift Set - £33 from Divine Chocolate - includes white chocolate Christmas trees and 70% dark chocolate ginger thins, with all the cocoa coming from the Kuapa Kokoo Ghanaian co-operative, which also owns 45% of the Divine Chocolate business.
2. Gift manufactured in Africa - Balls For Africa from Alive & Kicking - £25 in John Lewis stores and on-line. Perfect for football lovers, this ball is hand-stitched in Alive & Kicking's Kenyan factory and is two for one - with the second one going to a Kenyan school that needs sports equipment. As part of your gift you receive a unique tracking code that allows you to see exactly who will receive your donated ball in Kenya.
3. Donation that invests - Invest in a Brewery in Tanzania - £20 from the Good Gifts Catalogue - The eponymous catalogue has many gifts that invest in helping to get African businesses moving, but for some reason this one really stood out to me. It will make the ideal present for a beer lover who has had enough themselves this Christmas.