Women’s entrepreneurship in Ivory Coast


The New Cocoa Women is the name of a project sponsored by Luigi ZainiS.p.A. in favor of women cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast. The project consists of introducing modern technology in the local soap production process, in a context where soap has always been manufactured for family use by means of  an ancient manual technique. 

Thanks to this entrepreneurial project the production of soap will turn into an acknowledged, paid and accessible job for a large number of Ivorian women belonging to UCAS cooperatives.


The main goal of the project The New Cocoa Women is for women belonging to cocoa farmers families to be in the condition of earning their own income and subsequently acquire financial autonomy and increased family and social recognition along with a better future for their children.


Zaini supports the project The New Cocoa Women on a long-term basis being involved in purchasing machinery and building suitable work premises. Through the introduction of modern manufacturing processes and the sale of the soap on the local market, the previous production intended for family use will change into a paid job for women and will benefit the whole community.


It was a special woman to come up with the idea of the project The New Cocoa Women: her name is Solange N' Guessan and she is the head of UCAS - Union de Coopératives Agricoles de San Pedro (meaning United Farmers Cooperatives of San Pedro). The project then took shape when she met Luigi and Antonella Zaini, owners of the Italian chocolate factory named after their family, which has been producing Emilia chocolate for over 100 years.


All the women taking part in the project The New Cocoa Women (adding up to 100 in the second semester of 2015) will be granted a personal yearly income of about 900 € (the average yearly income in the country is 2500 euros). Along with that, they will improve their social status both in their families and in the community.


The production method consistsof the processing of cocoa waste products (dried cocoa shells) to turn them intosoap. After being dried, cocoa shells are burnt and crushed in wooden mortars to obtain potassium powder. The powder is then mixed with palm and palm kernel oil to create soap paste, which is finally pushed into wooden molds, allowed to cool and solidify. Once ready, soap bars are packaged and sold on the local market.


As for the current actual market, every cocoa farmers family is estimated to be using 5 soap bars a month. The project is likely to meet the needs of a potential market requiring 300.000 soap bars a year.


As an additional result of the project The New Cocoa Women, local populations will benefit from a larger availability and spread of soap supplies which will help them improve their health conditions. In areas where epidemics are still a serious threat to the population, personal hygiene is one of the essential rules to preserve children's and adults' health.


Ivory Coast cocoa production accounts for the 40% of the whole world production. Cocoa pods grow in the shade of tall trees and their cultivation is sited close to the edge of rainforests. Its structure is that of small family-owned plots of land and the farmers have joined together in cooperatives. Women's life is particularly tough having them to work in the fields while also taking care of their families, procuring water, getting food ready and carrying out all sorts of domestic duties.

Sensitivity to working women's issues, in the meaning of gender equality, runs in the DNA of Zaini'sfamilyand entrepreneurial history: from 1938 to 1950 the company was run by Olga Zaini whose staff included mainly women. She was one of the only women entrepreneurs at the time. Based on such premises, the project proposed by the Cooperative UCAS – San Pedro and its creator and spokesperson Solange N'Guessan couldn't but encounter enthusiasm and determination in the decision by Luigi and Antonella Zaini – third-generation company owners - of offering their support.


"I'd like the project to become an example for the whole country" stated Solange N'Guessan, creator and heart and soul of the project, and again: "It's not about charity: it's cooperation between the cocoa people and a chocolate producer that cares about their life conditions". With the sale of her "Olga Z" (this the name she wanted to give her soap bars in honor of Olga Zaini), Solange N' Guessan's target is to reach a market share of 20% in Ivory Coast in the next 5 years.


The Italian photojournalist Francesco Zizzola has been appointed by Zaini as the narrator of the project The New Cocoa Women. His interpretation of the project has brought to the creation of a beautiful collection of portraits, in which each one of the women involved has been paired with a natural element identifying her job. In 2016 Francesco Zizzola's pictures will be collected to create an exhibition. We'll keep you posted on this here on our website.