From a chance discovery in a Ugandan market, Leila Janah stumbled upon her next business idea: an organic skincare line made from Nilotica, a rare form of creamy shea butter extracted from the fruits of East Africa's Vitellaria nilotica tree nut, found primarily in the Nile River Valley.
In 2015 the Harvard-educated female tech entrepreneur from San Francisco officially launched the skincare line under the name LXMI — pronounced luxe-me. Its beauty supplies are now being sold in 300 Sephora stores, and its top-selling product, Pure Nilotica Melt, is a featured product on QVC.
Yet it wasn't only Nilotica's ability to hydrate Janah's moisture-deprived skin that compelled her to found LXMI. It was her commitment to chip away at some of the world's most serious problems, from childhood malnutrition to human trafficking: If she could cull Nilotica as a key ingredient for an organic skincare line, she could help marginalized East African women — many widowed and beleaguered by war — find dignified work through the wild harvesting, production and exportation of the high-grade tree nut.
"I thought to myself, This is incredible. Why don't more people know about this?" Janah said of Nilotica. "Why aren't women who are spending $300 on skin creams spending this on products that can better help the world?"
For the past two years, LXMI has provided Ugandan women the opportunity to triple their local wages.
Like Janah, many women founders are infusing their businesses with philanthropy aimed at helping women with regard to education, work or health. In an era when mainstream, male-run companies — like TOMS Shoes, Patagonia and Warby Parker — have popularized models based on sustainability and giving back, rising female entrepreneurs are increasingly pitching their socially driven ideas to investors.