On a typical day, Rachel Lichte wakes up to the smell of cooking fires and the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer. She makes a quick trip to town for supplies—tubes, wires—before heading to the three-acre diamond mine, surrounded by pineapple plantations, where she oversees 51 male workers, including 16 security guards. There she spends her days "covered in dirt"—a diamond mine, she notes, is "one of the least sexy places on earth"—and her nights poring over financial documents. As a cofounder of the jewelry company Clarity Project, she plans to use profits to enrich local communities.

Lichte's interest in diamonds was piqued, incongruously, by bananas. At 18, she backpacked through Costa Rica, where, she says, "I saw people working so hard on banana plantations but staying so poor." Several years later, when friends started getting engaged, she connected banana growers to diamond miners, who are poor despite valuable local resources. She knew nothing about mining, but did know that consumers (like her friends who were conflicted about whether to buy diamonds at all) wanted stones "that aligned with their values."

Initially, Clarity Project made rings with diamonds from a women's mining co-op in Lesotho. But then Lichte, who had previously held an office job in San Francisco, visited Sierra Leone to talk to miners and slowly earn the trust of local leaders (never mind her rudimentary command of Krio, their language). After working to "navigate networks of influence," she started her own mine, the better to ensure fair treatment for workers. She now splits her time between Africa and the United States, helping her partners plan a new jewelry line due out later this year.

Her Advice for Go-Getters

"Start somewhere. Just start. You'll never have the perfect conditions."

The Best Thing About Being Her Age

"I assume no goal is unreachable. And I have the energy to put in a ton of work."


Next Story