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Empowering Women, One Chocolate Bar at a Time

When Paul Newman and Ari Lee-Newman spent their honeymoon volunteering to distribute Vitamin A in remote villages in India in 2014 with the nonprofit group Vitamin Angels, they were struck by the joy and contentment they encountered, even among the most impoverished communities.

Realizing they wanted to build a business that supports such communities around the world, the couple left their jobs to launch BIJA Chocolates, a social enterprise that works directly with cacao farmers and women-owned bean-processing cooperatives throughout the equatorial belt to make high-quality, hand-crafted organic chocolate bars, pass along a greater share of profit to the producers, and ensure greater economic opportunities for families and communities.

In May, BIJA’s social mission – and its delicious chocolate bars – was recognized on national television by Whole Foods Market and NBC’s The Today Show. Selected among hundreds of manufacturers by Whole Foods’ “Local Program,” BIJA was featured as part ofThe Today Show’s Small Business Week, sponsored by Whole Foods Market, as one of the most innovative small businesses in America that is creating significant impact through ethical sourcing and social entrepreneurship to elevate communities around the world.

BIJA has partnered with eight carefully selected women’s associations in the Dominican Republic and Peru and intends to support one or two women’s groups in each of the top 10 cacao-producing countries by 2025. BIJA – which means “the seed and source of life” in Sanskrit – not only ensures that the people who pour their hearts and souls into cacao production are fairly compensated, but also supports the women’s cooperatives and nearby farms in obtaining organic certification.

“We work to equalize the cacao industry, empowering women globally, and making one of the most complex, distinctively flavored bean-to-bar chocolates possible,” said Newman.

Investing in Women
“BIJA is more than chocolate, though it’s darn good chocolate,” added Lee-Newman. “BIJA grew out of a passion for people. We hold the belief that if you invest in women, they will reinvest in their families and communities. The intention to invest in women is very important for us, and in many of the countries where we work, women are under-represented.”

Chocolate is a $100 billion industry, but many cacao farmers earn less than $2 a day. Working directly with small-scale growers and women-owned cooperatives allows BIJA to pay farmers and processors 25% more than traditional fair-trade prices. Also, BIJA’s 24 x 25 Organic Certification Program helps women’s co-ops achieve organic certification so they can expand their domestic and export market opportunities and increase profitability. BIJA intends to fund organic certification for 24 women’s cooperatives across the globe by 2025.

“When we meet women we would like to work with, more often than not, they’re not certified organic,” Newman explained. “There’s a lot of entrapment in the industry because organic certification costs thousands, forcing growers and co-ops to join larger co-ops because they can’t afford that on their own. We help shepherd them through the conversion process and gift them the certification. It’s all about economic empowerment. There’s a human component to food that can get obscured in the supply chain. We are trying to help people make more conscious decisions.”

Both Paul and Ari believe raising awareness about the human cost of chocolate production and providing economic opportunities to women’s groups throughout the world will pave the way toward exploring the human story of chocolate and rewriting the way cacao is sourced to ensure the people who grow, harvest and process cacao are compensated fairly. Through its One Seed Foundation, BIJA will begin to work in 2019 to provide scholarships for women to learn the craft of bean-to-bar chocolate making in their own facilities.

Each BIJA Bar is the alchemy of hand-harvested beans transformed with European craftsmanship to create an incredibly complex bean-to-bar experience. BIJA’s handcrafted-quality chocolates contain only four ingredients or less and are 100 percent Certified Organic, soy-free, non-GMO and gluten-free. The dark chocolates are vegan. The bars come in nine flavors: Burnt Maple Crunch, Cherry Chia Crunch, Dark Chocolate Adventure, Espresso & Cacao Nibs, Himalayan Sea Salt, Pure Dark, Sea Salt Almond, Tart Citrus Incaberry, Toasted Coconut, and Wild Ginger & Cayenne.

About BIJA Chocolates
BIJA, named after the Sanskrit word meaning “the seed and source of life,” is a social enterprise founded by husband and wife Paul Newman and Ari Lee-Newman that seeks to empower women by working directly with producers and bringing higher wages to communities. By working directly with women-owned co-ops, we create real relationships with the women and pay them directly. This ensures greater economic opportunities to help their families and communities. Recently, BIJA was recognized by Whole Foods Market as one of the most innovative small businesses in America that creates impact through ethical sourcing and social entrepreneurship.

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