Monica Gichuhi

Monica passionately advocates for the ASM sub sector in Africa. She has been involved in crafting strategies and policies towards supporting formalization of the sector to harness its benefits in promoting sustainable development. Her action-oriented approach to assisting gemstone ASM miners led her to create various mines to market initiatives to promote responsible sourcing of gemstones from Africa.

As one of the founders of the Virtual Gems Platform, she creates the linkage between the gemstone miners, their Associations and international gem buyers and jewelers. She collaborates with the miners Association to conduct due diligence of the mines and miners that join the initiative and oversees in-country liaison and communication of the project. She actively seeks out new miners to join the scheme while ensuring the sourcing process works effectively and sustainably for all the involved stakeholders.

Susan Wheeler

Susan is devoted to brining the jewelry industry together to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As a jewelry designer at Susan Wheeler Design, she purchases all of her gems and gold with a keen focus on purpose and providence. In her non profit The Responsible Jewelry Transformative (and The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference) Susan activates initiatives and dialogue to move the jewelry industry towards a more responsible future. As a founder of Virtu Gem, Susan brings her commitment to equitable supply chains and sustainable development to the program.

Jessica Hudson

Jessica is a GIA Graduate, Jeweler and Gemologist, owner and designer for VIPĀKA Jewelry and founder of The Nomad Jeweler. She has dedicated herself to advocating for more trust and transparency within the jewelry industry and believes in the purpose driven purchases model. As one of the founders of Virtu Gem, she helps to facilitate communication between buyers, designers and cutters. She takes great joy in applying her design skills and gem knowledge to assist in the creative process for both the jewelry designer and cutter. It is an honor for her to act as one of the “connectors” of Virtu Gem. To her, the best part is meeting such wonderful people from all over the world who share the desire to be a part of making a difference within our industry.

Rachel Black

Rachel has a degree in Sociology and had worked in nonprofit administration for 6 years. She has a lifelong passion for crafting, traveling, and jewelry making with a deep curiosity for understanding where materials come from and conscious design. Her experiences combined when she started as Susan’s conference assistant in 2019 and her role expanded into administrator for the Responsible Jewelry Transformative in 2020.

Maggie Phiri

After being in the industry for nearly 7 years expanding her gem cutting skills, knowledge, and working for jewelry companies, Maggie Phiri knows what truly drives her love for gems; and it’s not mastering the market flavor of the week, it’s learning the fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of these rare natural beauties, the uniqueness of each stone color, facet, shape, and fire.

Maggie holds a certificate in gemstone cutting and polishing from Gemstone Processing and Lapidary Training Centre (GPLTC) in Ndola, Zambia and currently works with Virtu Gem as a Project Administrator.

Silvia Kinyua

Silvia’s previous experience in marketing and promoting the gemstone sector has sharpened her to know how to best produce content rich with awareness and education around artisanal mining, the mines themselves and the people who mine and trade gemstones in source communities. As we all know, the people at the beginning of the gemstone supply chain are the luminaries of the marketing campaigns.

Currently, she works as Virtu Gem’s social media manager.

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ZAMBIA

Virtu Gem has partnered with The Federation of Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia

Pauline Mundia- Program Leader in Zambia

Pauline Sialumba Mundia worked as a personal Secretary for 14 years in both government and private sector. In 1987 formed Chipazuba company with the sole purpose of mining amethyst in Zambia. In 1990 stopped work and started managing the mine full-time up to date. In 1995 the Zambian government appointed me as the first woman board member of Kariba Minerals Limited the biggest amethyst mine in Zambia as well as Africa. Elected treasurer for the association of Zambian Women in Mining in 1997 In 2001 elected first woman ,chairperson for Kalomo Miners Association. In 2002 appointed steering committee for EU Mining Sector Diversification Programme. It was an ASM project. In 2002 saved as first woman steering committee member of the World Bank (gemstone project). 2008 was elected the first president of Federation of Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia stepped down in 2011. Currently elected as Secretary-General of the Association of Zambian Women in Mining,  Vice President of the Federation of Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia and vice president of African Women In Mining Association – Southern African Chapter. Also serving as Board Member of the Zambia Extractive Council representing the interest of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining.

MALAWI

Virtu Gem has partnered with The Gemstone Association of Malawi

Chikomeni Manda

Chikomeni is a GIA graduate and expert in ASM supply chains.

Experienced individual with a demonstrated background of working in Artisanal and Small Scale Mining sector in Malawi.

Chiko is a gemstone miner, dealer, ASM advocate and trainer. He has been involved in artisanal and small scale mining for 10 years.

His passion is in ASM advocacy and capacity building, hence he has collaborated with several local and international organizations on different ASM initiatives. Chiko works with artisanal miners across Malawi especially women. So far, he has trained many miners in basic gemology, lapidary and other ASM related topics pro bono, with the aim of empowering them with relevant knowledge and skills. He has also helped to formalize many miners as one way of promoting responsible sourcing.

Chiko is the Managing Partner of Perekezi ASM Consultants & Events, a member of Mzimba Gemstone Mining Cooperative and a founding board Secretary of the ASM Training Center. Supporting and working with vulnerable artisanal miners in the rural areas, is his greatest achievement.

Currently, Chiko is among our country coordinators in Malawi.

Percy Maleta

Percy is the sixth born son of Limstone Maleta and Ellen Maleta (late), in a family of 10 boys and 2 girls, married to Ashley and have three children namely Faith, Jamiya and Percy Junior. Besides being a veteran gemstone hunter and dealer, I am a trained gemstone cutter from Lapidary Training Centre in Tanzania. Basically, I come from a family with no known entrepreneurship dynasty but academics, and professionals, despite the challenges, I will be the one to create a dynasty of businessmen and women for the generations to come.

I am the Chairperson of Nyasa Mining Cooperative Society Limited, Vice Secretary for Gemstone Association of Malawi in Central region, Coordinator of Malawi Women in Mining Association – Central Region. How did I get into the gemstones business? I found myself in gemstone business by accident, in the year 1997. A stranger walked up to me with stones to sell for him, I had no clue, I had never heard of any stones that could be sold. Surprisingly, this gentleman insisted and left the stones with me. I ended up having the stones for six months with nothing to do with them until I met one gentleman, the late Mr. Mchulu (MHSRIP), who upon seeing the gemstones was shell shocked and couldn’t believe I had kept them that long without selling them. Truly beautiful, from that day onwards he taught me everything there is to know about gemstones. Fast forward to 2020 the rest is history, because of gemstones have travelled over the years to United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Togo, United Arab Emirates.

What type of gemstones I deal in? Which are my favorite and why? I deal in almost all colored gemstones and my favorite is rhodolite garnet. Rhodolite garnet is my favorite gemstone because of its readily availability yet sought after by most gem dealers and collectors and as well as jewelers. What makes my products unique, how do I add value? I am a grass root gemstone trader, the local miners see me as one of them, am like a family member to majority of local miners especially artisanal and small scale miners, because of this relationship my gemstones are fairly priced, it’s actually a triple win situation, this is to say the miner, myself and my buyers smiles at the end of any deal.”

KENYA

Caroline Muchira

Caroline Muchira

Habari (Hello). My name is Caroline. I am a trained gemologist (GIA) and gem cutter and a founder of Mkuki Gems & Jewelry Ltd. I have a passion for gems and jewelry. There is a certain joy in discovering a clean piece of rough gemstone full of possibilities and a great sense of accomplishment once it is cut to become part of a beautiful piece of jewelry.

My journey with gemstones started as a part-time fascination. Every Friday after my 9-5 job in logistics, I would make an over 300km bus journey from Nairobi to Voi. I would travel back on Sunday so as to be in the office on Monday morning. In Voi, I would go to the mines and interact with gem traders.

I was fascinated by the gemstones found there especially the green garnet. I was also curious as to how the miners could so effectively tell the difference between green garnet, green tourmaline, and pieces of green glass. To assuage this curiosity, I looked into various learning avenues to gain this knowledge and skill myself. I was established in my career and thought of gemstones as a hobby that I would tackle in retirement at about 60years of age.

As fate would have it, the company I was working for was sold to another party and this is when I decided to take the plunge. I sold everything I
owned and enrolled in an on-campus GIA program to become a graduate gemologist. It has not been easy but I enjoy every moment of it: visiting mines, touching different gemstones, and finally cutting the gemstone. Every day is a learning experience.

Over the years and through interaction with miners in Voi, I have recognized some of the issues faced by the miners, women, and youth miners in particular. Often, they are unable to sell their stones at a fair price to middlemen whose aim is to strike the lowest possible deal leaving miners barely able to eke out a living.

I have partnered with Canopen Education Services Foundation to help these women and youth miners by providing value addition training. This training includes gemstone identification, gemstone faceting, gemstone drilling, gemstone tumbling and basic jewelry making.