I still see it as a contradiction. But
Unilever is willing to step up and
say, “We do have a problem. And
we’re going to take steps to solve it.”
You walk down a beauty aisle today,
it’s not what it was 30 years ago.
That is a credit to the work that
Sundial did. That changed retail
across the country. And that’s what
we plan to continue doing, though
now we get to do it at scale. It’s
pretty exciting. As large competitors see the value that’s created and
the advantage that gets created,
then they are going to do similar
things, right? Which then all starts
to empower these women across
the globe, not just in West Africa: in
Turkey, in the Philippines, South
Africa, in Jamaica and Haiti.
Last year, you announced the
launch of the New Voices fund, a
$100 million fund to invest in busi-
nesses owned by black women.
Again, we’re trying to solve a problem. And that problem is, something like 7¢ of every investment
dollar in this country goes to a
woman-of-color business. With that
disparity, our communities are
never going to be self-sustaining.
Government has its role and re-
sponsibility. We should have the
same opportunities as everybody
else to build our own communities.
If I had had somebody who’d in-
vested in me and my business, I
probably wouldn’t have taken 30
years to get here. We’ve invested
in the Honey Pot, which is a vegan
feminine care company. We’ve
invested in a company called Beauty
Bakerie. We’ve invested in a company called the Lip Bar. We’ve
invested in a tech company called
Sweeten, which is a contractor
I try to tell people $100 million
is not a lot of money, in the overall
scheme and in the face of the prob-
lems we’re trying to address.
So you just need to apply more
capital? Isn’t that relatively easy?
Capital is a challenge and an issue,
I want to know about buying
but I don’t believe that it’s the main
challenge. It’s access, and it’s exper-
tise. We need to create those envi-
ronments in these communities. It’s
not like these women grow up and
the guy next door is the manager
of the bank and the other guy next
door is, you know, running the SBA.
Essence. Many would say that
the worst thing you could do
right now is get into media. You
obviously have a di;erent view.
I don’t see Essence as a media com-
pany. Most media companies have
an audience. Essence doesn’t have an
audience. Essence has a community.
Those are two very di;erent things.
When I see Essence, I see the largest
community of black women in the
world. That, for me, is the holy grail.
So now we’re building a business to
serve that community—not to serve
the audiences that make up that
community. Last year, the Essence
Festival had somewhere close to
Name some leaders in America
you admire—in business or in
politics or in entertainment?
Warren Bu;ett, who is probably a
favorite of everybody’s. My mother
has shown me what it means to have
stick-to-itiveness. Another person
I truly admire is Ben Horowitz,
the way that he’s embraced culture
and used it as a teaching tool.
Do you ever go back to Liberia?
I do. I was there this Christmas. I
went back to visit my father’s grave.
We have a school there called Todee
Mission that we support.
Is your brand of entrepreneur-
ship possible there?
I think it will be. It’s been very
successful in Ghana. Our commu-
nity commerce model is that 10
percent goes back into the supply
chain, to the women at the bottom
of the pyramid, so that they participate at the bottom and they also
participate at the top. As Liberia
gets more stable, I think it can
happen. We’re gonna find out,
because we’re definitely going to
try to make it.
We like to think of ourselves as a mission with a business. The mission needs to continue to be developed, but it needs to be developed at scale.
The Shea Way
Dennis created skin care products
from natural ingredients, such as
shea butter, that people in Liberia
have been using for centuries.