Securing livelihoods together with women artisans around the globe.
Issue 16 Summer 2018
Catherine Simony, Co-founder and Co-president, Global Goods Partners
In 2005, my co-founder Joan Shifrin and I set out to incorporate marginalized women and their communities into the global economy by launching Global Goods Partners (GGP), a not-for-profit social enterprise. GGP addresses poverty alleviation by creating the infrastructure to enable increasing numbers of women around the world to reliably earn fair living wages through craft production. We currently work with more than 40 artisan partners in 20 countries and provide training to our partners and the women with whom they work, to produce handcrafted products that appeal to consumers in developed markets.
As international development professionals, Joan and I understood the importance of economic inclusion and the need to address key components of women’s economic insecurity in order to bring about lasting and positive change. We chose to focus our efforts on the artisan sector, the second largest employer in the Global South after agriculture, worth over $32 billion every year.(1)
Today, thousands of customers purchase products from the Global Goods Partners website as well as from hundreds of retail stores in the US and overseas.
We are often asked what differentiates GGP from other brands. The foremost distinction between GGP and the many other worthy initiatives in the handmade sector is our operating model. Our leadership approach centers on forging partnerships with locally founded and operated women-led organizations and established fair trade artisan groups. We specifically work with those organizations seeking market access, operating knowledge and production capacity that will provide long-term stability and income for women artisans in their communities. GGP provides these groups with design and technical assistance, business management, operations and logistics support. We also offer small financial grants for capacity building and community development projects.
GGP’s success is intrinsically tied to our partners’ success. And, while there are other important social and economic indicators to consider when evaluating the efficacy of global development projects, our collective success depends on selling product. On this measure, good design is not only the key element; it also drives our market success.
Our in-house designer, Jenn Wong, leads the design methodology and product development process for GGP. Jenn works closely with artisans to create designs that complement their traditional skill sets, techniques and motifs. In nearly every community where we work, the availability of certain raw materials places limitations on design. When, for example, local markets have only a few solid fabric options for a group of embroiders, we work to create a cohesive line of products that showcases the group’s artistry while at the same time delivering a market-ready collection with strong appeal to US customers. Jenn’s design leadership and resourcefulness is critical to GGP’s sales and our success.
Yet, Jenn readily acknowledges, “I am not only the trainer. I am also the student.” Following a visit to Guatemala last year, Jenn recounted that “The women [artisans] demonstrated techniques and skills handed down from their mothers and their mothers’ mothers. They taught me about their land, their native tongue, their family, and what’s expected of them. They shared their hopes and dreams for the future; I would listen, envision and design this future with them.”
Like the adage about first impressions, products do not often get a second chance to make an impact on a potential customer in our increasingly visual world. Good design—visually and intrinsically–is absolutely critical to market growth. Good design coupled with effective leadership and enterprise management along with resources are key to GGP’s ability to advance our mission on behalf of women and their families around the world.
60 Artisan groups
In more than
throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas, helping to design and bring to market the fair trade, handcrafted products they produce.
Each artisan that creates products for GGP earns reliable, fair living wages and gains experience that can add benefit to all aspects of her life.
Co-creating with our partners on good design not only drives market success; it also ensures the longevity of our partnerships and the quality of opportunity for our partner communities.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
>> LEAD by creating enterprise that enables enterprise in/by others.
>> MANAGE to create market advantage that also advantages people.
>> PARTNER to amplify the impact and share strengths.
About the Author:
Catherine Lieber Shimony
Shimony is co-founder of Global Goods Partners and former director of international programs at American Jewish World Service. Catherine is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a commissioner for the Women’s Refugee Commission and a board member for the Brotherhood-SisterSol. She received an MA from Johns Hopkins University SAIS and a BA from the University of Michigan.