Jim Fiebig

Jean Noel and Jim Fiebig at the mine

Jim writes: “I’ll be very honest.  I started traveling to Madagascar and many other developing nations simply to buy gemstones for my jewelry store in Sturgis, Michigan.  The trips were very, very profitable.  The gems cost dramatically less and the PR value of each trip was immeasurable.  But something happened during my first two visits to Madagascar.  I became aware that this island (roughly the size of California) was home not only to the most diverse and prolific gem sources on earth, but also the most amazing people.  It is easier to name the gem species that do not exist in Madagascar than to list the incredible variety of mineral resources available to the Malagasy people. I sold the best Amethyst, Aquamarine, Garnets, Emeralds, Tourmalines, and many more fine gemstones from my trips to Madagascar.  Yet the question that plagued me was: With access to all these rough gemstones, why are they so poor?

I slowly learned the answer is not simple but the solution certainly was.  Education and access to market are the simple cures for much of this problem.  I also learned that the efforts of France, the US and other countries who supply nearly 73% of the Malagasy Federal budget through donations does very little for the little guy…sound familiar?

As an American, I often wonder if my vote or my tax dollars really make a difference.

I can say with all certainty that I never, ever feel as relevant here in my own country as I do when I am in Madagascar.  Every time I go and especially when I bring clients to visit the gems mining sites and buy gems, we all make a huge and lasting difference in the lives of hundreds of poor Malagasy people.  If you would like to make the trip sometime you will see what the other Devon Foundation Board members have seen.

But, since very few Americans ever visit Madagascar, we are making it possible for you to directly benefit these amazing people with the most effective method: People-to People commerce.

You may notice that we do not use the words Fair Trade Gemstones or Charity.  Both of these concepts are proven to benefit developing nations around the world. We believe that healthy unrestricted commerce is the sustainable answer. The Devon Foundation mission is simple:  Teach Malagasy people to more successfully mine, cut and market the incredible gemstones that already occur in Madagascar.

Since the big sapphire boom of 1998, gemstone exports have soared in Madagascar but the only people really profiting from this have been foreigners, like me. At one time nearly 60% of the world’s sapphires came from Madagascar. I do not want this flow to stop in any way and many of us still want to buy for less in Madagascar but there would be way more benefit to the local population if we could buy a well cut gem for $100 and not a small shiny rock for $1.00.

With more miners trained in field gemology to differentiate the great rocks from the common rocks, more lapidaries taught to properly facet these great rocks into beautiful gemstones and dealers who can form direct relationships with the rest of the world to sell these gemstones, things will improve…and you will have made the difference.”