The New Buzz in Development

Sweet Beginnings team

It seems that insects can be quite handy at times. In addition to malaria-fighting spiders, bees have also been doing their part in development abroad and here in the U.S. At the recent Inaugural Bipartisan Congressional Conference on Innovation in Giving and Philanthropy, Brenda Palms Barber discussed a business called Sweet Beginnings, developed through the North Lawndale Employment Network, which exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals. Originally, Lawndale provided job training to released offenders, however, Barber explains, “When people were ready for placement, we couldn’t find them jobs.” And that’s where the bees come in.

Based in Chicago, Sweet Beginnings produces its own honey, which is then used to create its line of all-natural beeline® products. It employs recently released felons in order to help them “establish work history, learn productive work habits, and gain marketable skills.” Employees assist in all forms of the business, from harvesting honey, creating the beeline® products, and selling the product at retail stores and events. This opens new and more lucrative employment opportunities, rather than falling back into a cycle of crime. Compared to the national average of 65 percent, the rate of former Sweet Beginnings employees returning to jail is below 4 percent. Along with this, the business, much to the surprise most, has been doing remarkably well. Annually, the company brings in $100,000 in sales and has made $2 million in project sales from the last five years.

While this case is a domestic example, its benefits can be implemented in developing countries as well. Bees are a natural resource which could create jobs and spur economic growth. Beekeeping takes relatively little training and is not as rigorous as other agricultural work. In addition, honey can be developed into a variety of different products, providing several potential streams of income.

Abroad, bees are pretty important also. The organization Bees for Development aids beekeepers in developing countries to realize the full potential of their work. This is done by providing locals with free training sessions on the ‘how to’ for beekeeping, and information on how to market and make a better profit on the product. In addition, the organization advocates for policy changes so beekeepers can gain access to the new markets.

Young man working at beekeeping cooperative. Source: Peace Corps

Through the Peace Corps’ Partnership Program, a volunteer in Ecuador, Elizabeth Clark, created a beekeeping cooperative with 18 different families in her community. The Partnership Program helps Peace Corps volunteers develop and fund projects in the countries they are serving. The community contributes 25 percent of the operating costs while the Partnership Program helps link organizations and individuals who may be interested in donating to the program. The beekeeping cooperative has helped provide a stable income for the families involved. In addition, the honey produced provides a healthier alternative to the cane sugar typically used by the community. Clark explains that “Working in a group will allow cooperative members to collaborate and exchange advice, as well as sell honey in bulk to larger organizations.”

In Uganda, the Bwindi Youth organization near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park uses beekeeping as a means to teach the youth and Batwa Pygmies about agriculture methods, conservation, and nutrition, as well as providing a means of living. The group has since created a “detailed constitution, budget, long-term work plan, and promotional brochures.”

The reason these initiatives are all buzzworthy, so to speak, is because they are scalable in a variety of environments and provide income for a variety of people. The skills involved in beekeeping, producing honey-based products, and managing the business aspects allow people to benefit from an initially low-cost initiative. As shown, the honey is a lot sweeter than the sting.

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