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Life Arts    H3'ed 2/16/11

Global Goods Partners: Handmade, Fair Trade Gifts That Support Women

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My guest today is Global Goods Partners [GGP]  co-founder, Catherine Shimony. Welcome to OpEdNews, Catherine. Could you please explain what your organization is and what it does? 

Catherine, on left,  with partner, Joah Shifrin
Iquitos, Peruvian Amazon, 2007  

Hi, Joan. Thanks so much for this opportunity. Global Goods Partners (GGP) is a nonprofit, international development and fair trade organization all in one.  We work with over 40 artisan communities in 22 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas. Our mission is to alleviate poverty and provide sustainable livelihoods in some of the poorest communities. By working with women-led producer groups, we help create economic opportunity by offering design direction, generating demand, and bringing to the U.S. market the unique, handmade, and quality fashion accessories that our partners produce.

Rather than traditional notions of charity, we believe that with the proper infrastructure and support, women can forge a path out of poverty for themselves and their children. We buy handmade products from community organizations around the world and sell them in the U.S. through our website, generating income for women and their families and educating U.S. consumers about the impact each purchase makes. Visitors to our website can choose from hundreds of fair trade products and read the personal stories of the women who make them.

At Global Goods Partners, we believe that lasting change begins at the community level. When women control their own resources, it becomes possible for families and communities to get out of poverty, and to gain access to education and health care. We harness the surge in popularity among U.S. consumers for handmade accessories to create jobs and income around the world. In addition to market access, we support partners with technical assistance, product development, and a small grants program.

It sounds fabulous, Catherine.  Tell us everything!  How did you came up with the idea for GGP? And how long have you been doing it?

Mexican Woman Drawing Embroidery 

My colleague and friend, Joan Shifrin, and I were both working for international development and grantmaking agencies and through our travels to visit with grantee organizations, we met with many women who were creating beautiful textiles and handcrafted products.  We recognized their talents and contribution to the indigenous artistry and culture of their communities and wanted to provide opportunity for these women to earn a fair, living wage from the products they were making.  
We also recognized that by living in the US, we have access to a large consumer base that we felt confident would be receptive to the beautiful handmade and fair trade products we purchased from our partners.  So we launched Global Goods Partners at the end of 2005. We believe that once women have a stable income and a secure environment for their families, they can begin to plan for longer-term community development and social change.  

Both Joan and I are mothers and from the time our children were in pre-school they would bring home catalogs with products to purchase as part of their school's fundraising efforts.  I wasn't too happy with the selection of items or this type of school fundraiser, nor was I pleased with the constant bake sales targeting my children at school.  So when Joan and I first set out to identify viable markets in the US for the products produced by our partners, we decided to tap into the fundraising market and present schools around the country with a socially responsible, fair trade and eco-friendly school fundraising program.  
The Global Goods Partners program provides women with much-needed markets, which lead to social empowerment, and raises the awareness in the US of the circumstances in which these women live and work, while also supporting schools across the country with important resources for education.  GGP also offers its fundraising model to not-for-profit organizations and has reached out to corporations interested in fair trade gifts for their clients.  The school fundraising program was our first market audience in addition to reaching individuals across the country at our online store.

It's a wonderful concept and sounds very similar to microlending in the sense that you're enabling women to become self-sustaining through their work. Instead of making small loans, you create markets for their wares.  My friend Amanda is a big fan of GGP. She loves those alpaca fingerless gloves and she's given about 20 pair of them as gifts. How do you decide what will be a successful product or which group to sponsor? Can you walk us through the process, Catherine?

Joan, you are correct about our mission and the direction of micro-lending in empowering women to become self-sufficient.  In fact, many of our partner organizations provide the women in their communities with micro-credit and financial services so that they not only produce products for and are paid by the organization, but that they also start their own micro-enterprises for the local market.

Peruvian belts

As a fair trade entity, Global Goods Partners maintains a long-term commitment to all our partner organizations around the globe.  Therefore we choose our partners carefully and evaluate prospective partners based on specific criteria.  We also allocate time and resources to fully understand the organizations before we embark on a partnership.  All of our partners are managed by local leaders and engage their communities in program activities addressing the needs of the most marginalized populations while also striving for economic sustainability. In addition to demonstrating their commitment to holistic community development, our partners must show that their products are made according to fair trade principles, represent their cultural values, are created from local materials and use local techniques and exhibit consistent, skilled craftsmanship.
Joan and I have worked with several of our current partners during our previous positions as grantmakers and many other organizations have been recommended to us by our colleagues who live and work overseas.  GGP has also partnered with numerous international organizations such as American Jewish World Service, Partners in Health and the Global Fund for Women, all of which have made recommendations to GGP of women-led community groups with income-generating activities around craft development.

Once we begin the partnership, we review the current products produced by the organization and assess the skills for new products to be developed. With many of our partners, their products are ready for the US market but often require additional design elements that we add from our in-house design team.  GGP also has a design volunteer program in which talented product and textile designers work either virtually with our partners or take time off from work and/or their busy lives to visit and work with our partners in their local communities. After five years in the marketplace, we have a good understanding of what our customers are looking for in our product line.  

It sounds like extremely interesting and gratifying work. Can you give us an idea of how much business you've generated over the last five years?  

Since the launching of Global Goods Partners, the number of partner organizations has grown substantially.  We started with a dozen partners and now work with over 40 community organizations, providing ongoing technical assistance, upfront purchasing of their products, grant funding for their operations, and a visible platform for their social change agendas to US audiences.  
GGP has weathered the economic storm and, in fact, we've already surpassed last year's year to date sales by 68 percent. Over the past five years, this has translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars of income generated on behalf of our partners, who, in many cases, would not have access to markets beyond their local communities. As a result, they have seen their sales grow exponentially and, at the same time, have strengthened their production capacity as well as their overall operations.

GGP has online retail customers in every US state. In just the past two years, we've expanded into the wholesale market place and have been met with interest and enthusiasm by retailers in a variety of niches -- from small brick and mortar stores to museums to large nonprofit organizations with online stores of their own. 

AIL [Afghan Institute of Learning]

Holy moly - 68% growth over last year's sales! If all American businesses were doing so well, we wouldn't be digging our way out of a recession.  Am I correct in assuming that you plan to expand your wholesale market? What else do you, Joan and Global Goods Partners have up your collective sleeve?

Yes, we definitely plan on expanding our wholesale business. Some products, however, especially those made in conflict countries, are too costly for us to offer to wholesale clients because their retail mark-up doesn't allow for competitive pricing. We are now participating in Trade Shows and Gift Fairs in different cities to reach a larger wholesale clientele.  

In addition to our retail, wholesale, school/nonprofit fundraising, and corporate markets, GGP offers our products at various events and conferences including the Fair Trade Federation, The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, NYC Fair Trade Coalition and other private home parties around the country.  We plan to expand our outreach by setting up GGP chapters in cities to promote fair trade, our socially responsible school fundraising program and to encourage people to donate to GGP.  With the donations we receive, GGP is able to bring on more groups, especially those that need a lot of technical assistance in product development and capacity building. With greater funding, we can increase our grants program and provide travel grants to our partners to attend training workshops and business development opportunities.  

This past September, our partner organization in Nepal attended a two week training program provided by Vital Voices in India that proved to be extremely helpful in strengthening their operations and building their contacts for other markets.  We are also interested in bringing the courageous and dynamic women we work with to the US to meet with audiences around the country and share with them the social change work they are helping to spearhead in their communities. 
Women like Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning.  Sakena is a women's rights activist, an education specialist and a guiding star to millions of Afghan women and children.  She began her work in the field of education, defying the Taliban in the late "90s by educating girls in clandestine home schools.  Today she provides education, healthcare and livelihood programs to millions of Afghans throughout Afghanistan and in the refugee community of Pakistan.  Over the last few years, her work has become recognized around the world, winning numerous awards and honors. GGP hopes to bring the work of our partner organizations to many more communities in the US.  

Well, I'm very happy to hear all about the wonderful work you have been doing, Catherine. What haven't we covered yet that you'd like to talk about before we wrap this up?

GGP is active in social media, which is helping us solidify and expand our community of support. In addition to our presence on Facebook, Twitter and other outlets, our recently completed video, narrated by Katie Couric, is a long-awaited addition to our messaging toolkit. The video highlights GGP's partners and our impact in the local communities in which we work. It also features several of the women -- all heroic social activists -- who inspire our work and the women artisans with whom they work. There is a five-minute and a one-minute version of the video. We recognize that effective public exposure is critical to increasing the impact of our organization and heightening awareness about the issues that our partners and other women around the world face on a daily basis. 
In addition, GGP is active in networks that are building a stronger fair trade movement in the US.  Europe is ahead of us in recognizing the positive social impact that comes from supporting producer groups overseas that are committed to fair trade principles such as earning a fair living wage, working under safe and healthy conditions, respecting the environment. GGP is about bringing marginalized communities into the global market place, improving the fairness within that market place and raising awareness that everyone can make a difference through the power of their purchase. 

Sounds great. It's been so nice to talk with you, Catherine. Good luck with GGP! Now, if I can just get on my friend Amanda's gift list for those fingerless alpaca gloves...

One-minute YouTube  

From the Global Goods Partners website: Global Goods Partners is a registered non-profit organization. We are dedicated to alleviating poverty by strengthening women-led development initiatives. We provide women with markets for their products, we help them expand production and improve their communities.

Thanks to Rhita Lippitz and Amanda Lang who each independently suggested this story.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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