Rapaport Magazine

Green Does Good

The Diamond Empowerment Fund has relaunched its fundraising Green Bracelet with its message of hope, inspiration and education that will change the world.

By Amber Michelle
Diamonds seem to be on the receiving end of negative publicity in the mainstream media on a somewhat regular basis, leaving consumers to wonder about the ethical implications of buying one of these precious gems. While a light is often shined on the dark side, it can also shine on the bright side of diamonds, where they bring economic empowerment to people and countries that manage the resource properly. The Diamond Empowerment Fund (D.E.F.) and its Green Bracelet are showing the world how diamonds do good.

Starting Up
   The Diamond Empowerment Fund was founded in 2007 by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons — who at the time had a jewelry line — and his mentor, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., who is currently the Senior Strategic Advisor to D.E.F. along with several members of the jewelry industry. Simmons, who is on the board of D.E.F., met Chavis when the two cofounded the Hip-Hop Summit in 2001 to bring artists together from the East and West Coasts as a catalyst for positive social change.
   Around the same time Simmons started a jewelry collection, he and Chavis traveled to South Africa to learn about the impact of diamonds on the country. The pair went to Mozambique to visit Nelson Mandela, who assured them that diamonds were an integral part of the economy of South Africa and explained how diamonds have benefited the nation. After hearing the diamond story, Simmons and Chavis decided to tell the story about the good that diamonds can bring about. The D.E.F. was created as an international nonprofit organization that supports initiatives and programs in diamond communities to empower youth through education to be the next generation of leaders.

The Bracelet
   One of the founding projects that D.E.F. launched as a fundraiser was the Green Bracelet. It was made from malachite beads and featured a gold-tone cage with a rough diamond floating inside. The bracelet was manufactured by Scott Rauch, president of SHR Jewelry Group in New York City. It was a collaborative design that was created to represent D.E.F.’s commitment to people and economies where diamonds are a resource. Rauch, Simmons and his wife at that time, Kimora Lee Simmons, worked with the cofounders of D.E.F. and designers at Simmons Jewelry to develop the bracelet.
   During 2007, Simmons held launch events for the organization in New York City, the Hamptons and at the JCK Las Vegas show. Simmons invited his celebrity friends to the events, including Cindy Crawford, Wyclef Jean, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Penelope Cruz and President Bill Clinton, among others — all were gifted with the bracelet. “The bracelet was made around the time that the ‘Blood Diamond’ movie came out and there was lots of negativity about diamonds coming out,” comments Rauch. “We wanted to show the good that diamonds do and we needed something to symbolize that, so the bracelet was created.” Rauch notes that the bracelet was carried at Kay Jewelers, Macy’s, Zales, Amazon.com and several independent jewelers, including JR Dunn and London Jewelers. Over 50,000 bracelets were sold through those outlets for $125, raising over $1 million for D.E.F.
   The design was inspired by the trip to Africa, explains Sally Morrison, currently managing director, marketing and jewelry, World Gold Council, who accompanied Simmons and Chavis on their Africa journey.“Russell felt that green was both the color of Africa and the color of money. We all wanted a piece of jewelry that would be youthful, wearable and fashionable for both men and women,” says Morrison. “While we were in Africa, we spent a lot of time looking at tribal beads in some of the markets and we very much wanted to create a bracelet to reference that local feel.”
   A new version of the bracelet was recently relaunched on Amazon.com with a design reboot. The malachite beads remain a symbol of D.E.F., but the new version of the bracelet has a gold-tone bead accented with two polished diamonds, shown right. “The design changed to show the growth of the students involved in the program, who have gone from rough diamonds to the polished gems that they have become today,” comments Nancy Orem Lyman, vice president and executive director of D.E.F. “The green malachite beads work well for what we want to say. Green says sustainability, birth and how we are working to empower young people to grow into leaders.”
   Money raised by D.E.F. goes to three organizations in communities where the diamond industry does business. The first is CIDA City Campus in South Africa, which is a nearly tuition-free business school that educates those who are financially disadvantaged. Part of its curriculum is entrepreneurship, with a component on giving back to the community. The African Leadership Academy is another school in South Africa that benefits from D.E.F. It is a school that bridges the educational gap between high school and college and it supports leadership development and entrepreneurship. Students are encouraged to return to Africa and help the communities they came from. The third program is the Botswana Top Achievers that was developed by the Botswana government’s Ministry of Education. The top-achieving students in the country are identified and are then educated in the U.K. or U.S. After their education is complete, the students return to Botswana to work. D.E.F. is also considering adding an educational-based program in India as its fourth beneficiary. “Through a transparent diamond you can see an empowered community,” says Simmons. “This is even more true today, now that we are expanding our education support to youth in India.”

Wyclef Jean
The Students
   Three students from the African Leadership Academy (ALA) attended the recent D.E.F. Good Awards held in New York City at the Empire Penthouse and shared what it means to them to be the recipients of funding from the D.E.F.
   Fortune Zindi, who hails from Zimbabwe, graduated from ALA in 2012 and is now attending Skidmore College. “I went to ALA for two years. Before school, I had no idea of the future or how to fit in, but I had a desire to make a change in my immediate surroundings. Through the Diamond Empowerment Fund, I am a direct recipient of support that has enabled me to have a transformative education.”
   ALA class of 2008 member Ngozi Cole, from Sierra Leone, tells her story: “I went to the African Leadership Academy. I was sponsored with $40,000 by D.E.F. Now I am at the College of Wooster in Ohio. I am thinking of going to law school and studying social justice and human rights.”
   Now attending the University of West Virginia, where he studies fashion design and economics, Emmanuel Ewald Mushy from Tanzania graduated from ALA in 2011. He says that D.E.F. supported him so that he could “get a better education and go back to my country to change the system. To study in a foreign country is a one-time opportunity.”

Getting Involved
   Social responsibility is important to twenty-first-century consumers. “Millennials especially want to know that their dollars are doing good,” says Lyman, who notes that the D.E.F. Green Bracelet fits that criterion. Retailers can get involved with D.E.F. through the Diamonds Do Good Membership program. For a donation, the amount of which depends upon number of stores, retailers will get a kit that helps them communicate to their staff and customers how diamonds benefit communities where the gems are from and where the industry does business. The kit also contains a digital brochure to send to customers, what to do on a Facebook page and a year’s worth of suggested posts. And of course, the Green Bracelet is available to be sold in stores that want to connect with a philanthropic cause that will resonate with a new generation of jewelry buyers.

For more information, contact D.E.F. Vice President and Executive Director Nancy Orem Lyman at n.lyman@diamondempowerment.org, 212.359.4219 or visit diamondempowerment.org and diamondsdogood.com.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2015. To subscribe click here.

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