Theo-ECI Partnership is Bringing Cocoa from the Congo to the World

Written by: Stephanie Hsieh

Last month Seattle-based artisan chocolate makers Theo Chocolate, in partnership with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), have released two Congo chocolate bars made using organic, fair trade cocoa sourced from Congolese farmers.

The ECI is a non-profit organization founded by actor and director Ben Affleck. The organization takes a two-pronged approach to its work for and and on the behalf of the eastern ECI. On one hand they advocate for the area by encouraging private and public investment, raising public awareness of the region and its need for aid, and by helping drive changes in policy that will increase the USA’s engagement in the area. On the other hand the ECI is dedicated to funding local initiatives to improve the quality of life in the area by giving grants to community-based grassroots organizations. Theo Chocolate was founded by Joe Whinney, who first pioneered the importation of organic cocoa beans into the USA. Since then he and his company have remained committed to using organic, fair trade ingredients to make their artisan chocolate bars. Theo and ECI are working with ECI grantees such as Greenhouse, a Congolese cocoa cooperative, to develop training programs that help cocoa farmers improve the quality of their product and thus its worth on the international market.

Cocoa beans drying in the sun.

Cocoa: not just good for the world, but it becomes chocolate too. What’s not to love?

Theo and ECI have chosen to unite behind cocoa for a number of reasons. According to Dhena Bassara, Director of Greenhouse, cocoa is an ideal crop for promotion because it is “a fast-growing, sustainable, high yield crop that commands high global prices, requires minimal re-planting, prevents deforestation, supports food security, and is a major source of income for women. It’s also ‘militia proof’.” This last part refers to the fact that cocoa is a crop with little value until it has been processed into chocolate as well as being labor-intensive to harvest. These factors combine to make it an unattractive target for the armed militias that still roam the eastern DRC, allowing cocoa farmers to reap the full benefits of their work.

These full benefits have already begun to make themselves known. According to Atandi Isaka, a Congolese cocoa farmer and cooperative member, “household incomes have effectively doubled giving farming families the opportunity to take their kids to school and improving their access to healthcare.” With Theo’s commitment to purchasing 300 tons of organic, fair trade Congolese cocoa, it seems that this partnership between them and the ECI is set to continue bearing fruit in the cocoa farming communities of the eastern Congo.

Theo Chocolate’s Pili Pili Chili and Vanilla Nib chocolate bars are available at $5 a bar through Whole Foods supermarkets and their physical and online stores.

‘Elles’ exhibit at Seattle Art Museum raises questions regarding its success

Defying conventions

By: Marina Ignatyeva

The Seattle Art Museum is currently the site of one of the most exciting projects in the world. SAM partnered up with the Centre Pompidou, France’s largest modern art museum, to bring a tiny portion of their radical all-female artist exhibit to the United States. It kicked off on October 11, 2012, and will continue until January 13, 2013. Like the Centre, the Seattle Art Museum has taken down all the works by male artists, and decided to showcase only the works by women in the entire museum. SAM and the surrounding universities are also hosting various workshops and lectures by feminists.  This is why the exhibit is called “Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris”. This was done to facilitate discussion about gender discrimination in the art world, and in life, as well as to help viewers explore the meaning of being a woman.

While the overall response has been high praises, there has been a division between mainstream news sources and the more independent sources about the success of the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibit. When Centre Pompidou held their “Elles” exhibit, it was a conscious effort to create gender equality, and resulted in the Centre buying massive amounts of art pieces to balance out the gender breakdown of its collection. The Seattle Art Museum heavily borrowed from the Centre Pompidou, as well as other prominent galleries around the United States, to supplement its lack of pieces by women. Mainstream news sources such as the Seattle Times put emphasis on how the exhibit is exploring what constitutes being a woman, and shows a blend of artwork from different time periods to show how the concept of femininity is not set in stone. It also provokes discussion regarding discrimination against women in the art world.

Independent news sources such as The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, question about how long this equality will last at the Seattle Art Museum. Both types of news sources agree that the blatant gaps in some of the exhibits at “Elles” indicate just how small the collection of art by women is compared to the usual display of works by male artists. This is understandable, since the Seattle Art Museum does not have the massive resources of Centre Pompidou to purchase new pieces for this exhibit. This is also worrisome. An article in The Stranger wonders if any of the pieces borrowed for “Elles” will be purchased, or if SAM will go back to displaying mostly male artists’ works of art. This would send a message of “lets celebrate feminism, but then go back to the gender-biased status quo”.


Seattle adds Facebook to it’s Résumé

Sign-up for Facebook

Facebook is known worldwide and takes only a few minutes and an email address to sign-up!

Seattle has particularly strong information technology and a higher percentage of college graduates than any other major American city, with approximately 53.8% of residents aged 25 and older holding a bachelor degree or higher. I think it’s safe to say that Facebook made a pretty good move opening a new engineering office to the great city of Seattle. The talent that the area has proven to produce could only keep Facebook at the top of the social networking phenomenon, where it seems to be comfortably sitting followed by Myspace (who coincidentally have an office in Seattle already).

It might just seem like a new office, but this marks the first engineering office for Facebook in the U.S. besides the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. Vice President of Engineering at Facebook, Mike Schroepfer, is use to recruiting engineers from the emerald city to join the social networking site in Palo Alto, California. Now his excitement is finding those to fill out the new spot. Move-in date for their Northwest location is looking to be July although no office location has been chosen. They are looking for space to fit roughly 30 employees and have yet to decide where to be in the big city. A cozy spot on the eastside in the BelRed (Bellevue/Redmond) area near their partner Microsoft is an option or also in the heart of the city near technology giants such as Amazon.

Facebookis not the only one to benefit. This will potentially give a few engineering and tech geniuses the opportunity to work for a great company. Maybe Facebook will like Seattle so much they add an even bigger office in the future! After all it is known as one of our nation’s top software engineering hubs. Seattle is the birth place for much of today’s technology master minds and it’s great to see more companies taking advantage of the young tech junkies, eager for work at a well respected and fast on the move company.