Changemakers: Joan Shifrin and Catherine Shimony
GGP works exclusively with women artisans and female entrepreneurs. Why is that important?
As experience and research have proven, women invest their earnings in food, healthcare, education, and the well-being of their families, serving as an investment in the long-term economic security and advancement of civil society. UN data suggests that women in developing countries invest nearly 90% of their income directly into their families and communities, whereas their male counterparts only invest 30%-40%. Women tend to spend their incomes and savings on labor saving devices that improve quality of life and purchase consumable necessities for children and other family members. In vulnerable communities, women’s income consistently keeps families above the poverty line. Women are more likely to invest in the education of both sons and daughters, which is the strongest indicator of long-term emergence from poverty.
The GGP model is specifically designed to expand income generation opportunities for women while tackling [the] broad social justice issues within [those] communities. GGP’s partners provide training in literacy, business, and design, ensuring that women have the opportunity to play an active role in the aspects of a business that interest them, rather than remaining constrained to piece work over the long term. They provide health education and health services and empower women as active and voting members of civil society. Acknowledging that earned income is a vital step to women’s empowerment, GGP places added value on funding community based organizations that act as catalysts for further social change.
There are often pitfalls of mixing business and friendship. What is your experience?
We are aware of and remind ourselves fairly often that we’ve beaten the odds. We had a good sense of our own skill sets and how they complemented one another’s before we set out on this journey. That knowledge has been important as GGP has grown and the stakes have become bigger. We highly respect each other’s judgment but have lively conversations when we don’t see eye to eye on some issues. As trite as it may sound, sharing a strong belief in our mission has kept our friendship and the organization on track.
There’s always a moment in time when opportunity conspires to let entrepreneurs and changemakers step out and just ‘begin’. Was there a moment or a time that appeared as ‘the’ moment?
It was the summer of 2005 when we took some time off to strategize about our idea of bringing economic opportunity to the most vulnerable women in very resource poor communities. It was then that we had our “moment” because we quickly realized that because of where we lived, we have access to one of the largest markets in the world. At the time, we focused on the Internet and our novel idea of bringing a quality, fair trade, eco-friendly and global School Fundraising program to students and their communities throughout the US. We believed that school fundraisers should be educational and impactful. We wanted to create the first socially responsible school fundraising program that would motivate students and their communities.
What’s the one thing you wish your work would eradicate or change?
In our macro view of the world, injustice and inequality stand at the root of the problems. Creating legal systems that respect women and men equally, educating girl children as well as boys, opening leadership opportunities to women—in government as well as business, and valuing women’s contributions to their families and communities would go a long way to advancing not only women’s lives but our society at large.
Collectively, progress is being made but it is not nearly sufficient to stem the enormous hardships we face.
What’s the next year(s) look like for you?
In the past year, GGP [has] met exciting growth projections and expanded our efforts to assist in the capacity building of our CBO partners. We plan to build our base of independent retail clients and expand our custom design work with larger retail businesses and corporate clients. As members of the fair trade community and other organizations that promote artisan enterprises, we expect to increase our efforts in these forums with the goal of raising awareness and expanding our collective impact. We’ve also committed to increasing our technical assistance program by providing individually designed training programs to our partners, to help them meet the needs and expectations of overseas buyers.
This coming year we will also build on last year’s launch of #Fair Tuesday, which we launched last holiday season. #Fair Tuesday creates awareness about fair trade and conscious consumerism during the holiday shopping season. It is a global ethical consumer movement that represents more than 140 organizations in 12 countries. There is now an Advisory/Steering committee to promote #Fair Tuesday and we are thrilled that Magnifeco has joined us!
If you could give advice to an aspiring change maker, what would you tell them?
Do the due diligence and then GO FOR IT. It’s important to know the landscape of the field that you are entering, what collaborations are possible and where to focus your energy and resources. Once that is accomplished, don’t be deterred and start slowly, accumulate great advisors and build on your successes. It’s important to engage the people who are integral to your mission from the beginning. Building partnerships has been the model for Global Goods Partners!