MEET BRITTANY MERRILL UNDERWOOD - FOUNDER OF AKOLA

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Moved by a feeling of complete compassion when she met a single Godly Ugandan woman, Brittany Merrill Underwood risked everything to transform the lives many. The founder of Akola, Brittany Merrill Underwood captivates you with her contagious and unwavering faith, passion, determination and perseverance.

BRITTANY'S CALLING

In the summer of 2004, Brittany's sophomore year in college, a friend asked Brittany to join her on a mission trip to Uganda. Having never been on an overseas mission trip, she jumped at the chance. Nothing had prepared Brittany for this experience which included, sickness, unbearable heat, and witnessing extreme poverty. It seemed completely overwhelming to a 19-year-old journalism major from Atlanta, Georgia. Two weeks into the trip a local pastor took her group on a tour of the local village and introduced Brittany to Sarah, a 23-year-old Godly mother of two who humbly cared for 24 orphan children in her small hut.  Brittany was completely moved by Sarah's raw faith and unwavering trust that God would provide for her bountifully when she had so little. This 10-minute interaction would transform and change the course of Brittany's life.

 Returning back to her comfortable college life, the images of Sarah and the 24 children she cared for replayed over and over in Brittany's mind. Soon Brittany was determined to find a way to build a house for Sarah. After thorough research and speaking with local leaders, she learned that Sarah was not alone; hundreds of women were just like Sarah, taking care of 10 or more children. So, in 2006, a vision to build a single house launched into the construction of an orphanage and the drilling of 20 water wells throughout the country.

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BIRTH OF AKOLA 

With the help of her parents and donors who believed in the orphanage project, this young passionate college graduate moved to Uganda with three friends to begin the inconceivable; construction of an orphanage.  It was Brittany's incredible determination and perseverance that truly helped them get through this project. They were met with many roadblocks and obstacles in the construction of the orphanage and the politics in the communities.

 In 2007, the orphanage was finally completed. However, Brittany realized that this was not enough to meet the demands of the community. She saw that many women needed more. They simply did not have the income or confidence to embrace their calling to provide for themselves or their dependents.

Brittany learned that a few women were using their craft of paper bead making to generate an income.  With the help of friends, in the fashion industry, Brittany determined it would be a great opportunity for these women to design jewelry and launch a sustainable business.  Brittany discovered that training and employing women, would guarantee a monetary income to help care for their families. The Ugandan women named it "Akola" which means, "she works" in their local dialect.

 WHAT IS AKOLA?

The Akola Project is a non-profit organization with a mission-related jewelry business that invests in women in extreme poverty to help them become agents of transformation in their families and communities. Akola works primarily in rural villages that are barter societies, cut off from the global economy. Ugandan communities have benefitted from the 400 women who infuse capital into schools and businesses, and have the financial resources to invest in their families futures.

 Akola has two arms: product sales and holistic programming for community development.

 Product Sales:

Several different Collections: Color, Horn, Metal, & Glass

1. Economic Empowerment: Akola empowers women economically so they can free themselves and their children from the devastating cycle of poverty and marginalization.

2. Training & Employment: Akola trains and employs women with no educational or artisan background in remote villages in Eastern & Northern Uganda as well as poverty-stricken regions of Dallas. (Akola Dallas was started in the last year for Akola's mass-market line. They have partnered locally in Dallas with several agencies mainly with New Friends New Life and Serve West Dallas.)

 Holistic & Community Development Programs:

1. Holistic Programming: Akola provides holistic health, education, business, savings & loans, ministry, and wellness programs to women and their dependents.

2. Community Development: Akola invests in community development by building infrastructure for economic opportunities including vocational centers and water wells.

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BRITTANY'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In March 2015, Brittany won the Spanx Leg Up award that promotes women entrepreneurs and their businesses. Brittany was named the ‘Best Person in the World” by Yahoo in 2014 and was honored by clothing manufacturer Levi as one of 50 women around the globe who have changed the political, cultural, and spiritual shape of the future. She was awarded the Emerging Leader Award from SMU in 2013, received the Young Leader Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation in 2014, and was the 2014 ‘My Michelle Moment’ recipient for Michelle Watches. Brittany has been featured on the likes of the Katie Couric Show, CNN’s Young People who Rock, Christianity Today, and Modern Luxury. In 2014, she was asked to join the elite mentoring class for the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative. Brittany joined the faculty of Southern Methodist University in 2015 where she teaches a new course on Social Innovation.

GET INVOLVED 

 1.    Donate to Akola Academy, where 100% of your donation funds holistic programming and community development. This month, every dollar donated will be matched by a grant from Ashlee & Connie Kleinert in collaboration with the Hawn Foundation.

2.    Volunteer at Akola Dallas Headquarters. If you have a desire to empower marginalized women and a love of beautiful jewelry and accessories (who doesn't?), then they would love to have you join their passionate team of Dallas volunteers! Click to receive more information.

3.    Host a happy hour with friends that will benefit Akola. This is a fun way to shop and support Akola’s mission to empower women in poverty. Join Akola this Saturday, July 25 for their Fall Launch Party, 6-8 pm, 2646 Main Street #110 Dallas. ( I got a sneak peak of a few pieces today and the collection is incredible!)

This video is a beautiful snap shot of the amazing impact & change akola is having in so many people's lives!