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Melissa Biggs Bradley

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Connecting With Tanzania And Creating A Market

Posted: 10/12/11 05:30 PM ET

Only a few years ago, Connecticut-based Anne Wells pondered a question similar to the query pondered by so many travelers returning from Africa: "How can I, a 30-something-year-old working wife and mother of three daughters support real solutions to the many seemingly insurmountable challenges?" Working with locals back in Tanzania, where she had lived for several months in the 1990s, Wells created an ambitious organization, Unite the World with Africa, which identifies local grass-roots organizations and supports them through fund-raising and local training. She also launched Ashé Collection, an online marketplace for a diverse collection of designers, artists and craftspeople working in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

Her passion and the project grew out of her travel to Tanzania, where she experienced love at first sight. "I adored everything: the vast landscape; the huge canopy sky; the scents and smells; the red earth; the stampeding wildlife; and most of all, the people," says the mother of three girls who is based in Connecticut. "In Tanzania, I felt connected in a way that I have never felt anywhere else. It was like coming home." As she explored the country, invited into locals' homes and making connections and friendships, Wells became determined to launch an initiative that would give back to the place that had such a profound effect on her.

A trained journalist and marketing executive who has worked in non-profits for more than a decade, Wells is particularly interested in women connecting and helping each other across cultures and geography. Like New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, she also ascribes to the notion that in a huge opportunity of lasting, real change lies in educating girls, especially in the Third World. "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is mandatory reading in my world," says Wells of the bestseller Kristof co-wrote with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

The idea behind her 2010-launched UNITE is straightforward: identify local grass-roots organizations and support them through both remote fund-raising and local training. Her interest in fashion and style also led to the founding of Ashé, an online marketplace for a diverse collection of designers, artists and craftspeople living and working in creative havens like Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa. One of the collection's bestsellers, a hand-painted weekender bag, can be purchased on the Indagare Souk (www.indagare.com/souk).

Read a Q&Q with Wells about her vision for Unite, about her favorite pieces of the Ashé Collection and about the places she loves the most in eastern Africa.