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In the Tall Grass

Philip and Katy Leakey dreamed up a sustainable business for the Maasai.

Author Sharon Mcdonnell Photography Ehren Joseph


Image – Ehren Joseph

WHO • PHILIP LEAKEY, 61, AND KATY LEAKEY, 56

MISSION • To create an alternative business plan for a Kenyan tribe of cattle herders. In 2001, the Maasai were devastated by a drought so severe it made it nearly impossible for them to support their families. That’s when the Leakeys-who had been living with the tribe-stepped in. They taught Maasai women to make and sell jewelry from the remaining nuisance grass and fallen acacia wood, using natural dyes and glass beads at outdoor workstations spread across 150 miles in the Rift Valley. “We tried to design a system that doesn’t interrupt their lifestyles,” says Philip. A woman who works around 30 hours a week can earn enough in a month to feed her family for a year; after working three months, she can also educate her children for a year.

MOTIVATION • Philip is the son of famed paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, so he and Katy have deep roots in rural Kenya. “Philip and I witness the positive change that stems from their learning and earning on a daily basis,” says Katy. “People ask what makes the Maasai so happy. It’s something that our ancestors knew: Make family and friends the center of your universe. It’s what they’ve taught one individual American woman who lives among them.”

GET INVOLVED • Leakey Collection jewelry is sold online and in shops in more than 20 countries worldwide. Visit www.leakeycollection.com.

One Response to “In the Tall Grass”

  1. Jay Clark Says:
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Katy was a ‘hero’ of mine since we were kids. I am so proud to know her and of the great good that she does and is and example for!

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