Local Spotlight: Full Belly Project

Many of us take the amazing inventions we own for granted. They save us time, energy, and--in the end--money. While we all face our own struggles, most of us are privileged in some way and often overlook how the most basic tools (like utilizing a desk to do our homework or washing our hands with clean water and soap) help us be efficient, well-nourished, productive members of society. While you or I might use a computer to help us complete our daily tasks, those less fortunate than us often don’t have the advanced, user-friendly tools that aid in the completetion of their own daily tasks--or at least they didn’t until the Full Belly Project came along.

The Full Belly Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based here in Wilmington, NC. Through a combination of engineering and design, entrepreneurship, and the dedicated work of many individuals, the Fully Belly Project works to alleviate the daily challenges people living in rural communities face by providing and empowering them with simple, easy-to-use, and sustainable tools. These tools--like a nut sheller or bag board desk--encourage self-efficacy and allow rural community members to help themselves. By providing the right tools, the Full Belly Project “help[s] people keep their own bellies full.”

This business is doing some truly amazing things. Read on to learn more about the mission of the Full Belly Project, the organization’s Executive Director (and UNCW alumni) Amanda Coutler, and how you can get involved.


HC: How did you get your start with the Full Belly Project? What is your role in this organization?

AC: I graduated from UNCW with degrees in history and French. I always liked traveling so I tailored my history degree internationally focusing on developing countries. This fueled my interest in human rights and international development. Learning French was very useful as many developing countries are francophone. Later, I earned my Masters at George Mason University in global affairs, specializing in conflict analysis and resolution. Through this degree, I learned that economic development reduces conflict and the best way of to fight poverty is through empowerment. After graduating, I came back to Wilmington and discovered the FulI Belly Project. It was a perfect match! I started volunteering and spending most of my time there. After four months, I was hired as the Interim Executive Director, and now since this past August I became the Executive Director. My responsibility is essentially to oversee all operations with the Full Belly Project. This includes finances, volunteer coordination, logistics, outreach, project management, and much more.



HC: How did the Full Belly Project get it’s start?

AC: In 2001, Jock Brandis traveled to Mali to fix a small village. While there he came across a woman who informed him that it would be of great service to her village if he could find an affordable peanut sheller for them. Upon returning to the United States, he searched for such a device but was surprised to see one didn’t exist. This led to the invention of the Universal Nut Sheller and the founding of the Full Belly Project. Jock is still our genius inventor and Director of Research and Development.


HC: What is the mission of the Full Belly Project?

AC: We strive to design and distribute income-generating devices that improve life in rural communities.


HC: Where did the name “Full Belly Project” come from?

AC: One of our founders and current board members, Jay Tervo, came up with the name. It is meant to convey that our goal is to help others keep their own belly’s full.



HC: What’s the most rewarding part of working at the Full Belly Project?

AC: Knowing that I am able to change lives in an empowering and sustainable way. We do not treat people as mere recipients of help. We do not give handouts. We believe that the best way to help someone is to give them the tools to help themselves.


HC: So far, what has been the product that has made the greatest impact on the daily lives of those living in rural communities?

AC: The Universal Nut Sheller and the Soap Press have been our most widely distributed products.

The peanut (or groundnut as it is called in West Africa) is an important subsistence crop to hundreds of millions of people across the world. Not only is it important nutritionally, as it provides a convenient source of protein and thirty essential nutrients, but it is also an important source of income for these communities especially women as it gives them a product to bring to market. However, shelling by hand is both time consuming and painful, often leaving open wounds on the sheller's hands. The Universal Nut Sheller not only reduces time and discomfort for these women but it also increases their nutrition source and income. This increase in income is especially useful for women as it allows them to pay children's school fees. For example, what normally would have taken five people to complete in fifty hours, the Universal Nut Sheller can shell a 100-pound bag of peanuts in an hour.

The Soap Press is an innovation that Full Belly developed for the exclusive use of our corporate partner Sealed Air for their Soap for Hope program. Around the world, over seven million children die each year from diseases that could have been prevented from simple hand washing. And every year, a typical four hundred room hotel generates 3.5 tons of solid soap waste. This campaign collects and redistributes the sanitized soap to members of the community so that they can recycle it with the Soap Press.


HC: What does the Full Belly Project hope to accomplish in the future?

AC: We want to distribute our products more widely and continue to design devices that solve problems and provide income to communities. Our vision is that the residents of rural communities and developing economies can live lives of abundance, awaking each morning to a day of economic possibility and going to sleep each night with bellies that are full.



HC: How can others help the Full Belly Project make an immediate impact in global rural communities?

AC: There are many ways to get involved! The easiest thing is to spread the word about the Full Belly Project, our mission, and vision. You can also volunteer with our organization--either helping with our campaigns and events or hands-on development and shipping of our products. Additionally, donations are always needed and directly fund our cause! Find out more by following us on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.


All photos courtesy of the Fully Belly Project.