Helping women gain confidence
when dealing with money

Interview with Catherine Shimony of Global Goods Partners

by Brienne Walsh on June 1, 2011

Catherine Shimony is the co-founder of Global Goods Partners (GGP), a not-for-profit organization focused on women and children in developing countries. Both GGP co-founders, Catherine Shimony and Joan Shifrin were featured on the Today Show interviewed by Katie Couric. Catherine is the mother of two children and lives in New York City.

 

When did you start your career?

My career started right out of college. I worked as an assistant to the Midwest regional director of the Berlitz School of Languages and after a few months, I was promoted to be the director of a Chicago school. It was very exciting because, as a new graduate with a French major and political science minor, I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed, but I felt fortunate at the time to be working in the private sector.

After a year as a director, I wanted to go back to school to study international affairs and economics—I was particularly interested in Europe—so I enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). I had a fantastic first year studying abroad in Bologna, Italy and then spent my second year in Washington, D.C. followed by a summer in Kenya on a special scholarship program where I researched and worked with women’s organizations. I became enamored with Africa, so much so that I have returned to the continent many times throughout my career.

 

What did you do after you finished at Johns Hopkins?

For two years I was the program director for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and then moved to New York and worked for the Council of the Americas as a senior program director, writing about political and economic developments and hosting programs for financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies. But I really wanted to get back into international development, so I accepted a position as the director of international programs for the American Jewish World Service where I worked with Ruth Messinger, formerly the Manhattan Borough President.  I was responsible for both long-term community development projects throughout the global south and global emergency response grants.

I left AJWS after eight years to found Global Goods Partners in 2005 with my colleague Joan, who was also a graduate of SAIS.

What is Global Goods Partners (GGP)?

GGP is a not-for-profit fair trade organization with a mission to alleviate poverty and promote social justice by strengthening women-led development initiatives and creating access to the US market for marginalized communities across the world.

GGP works with over 40 women-led community organizations in 22 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas.  All of the 500 handmade products that we sell on our website are made by women who earn a fair, living wage as part of community groups that not only provide employment but also offer literacy education, healthcare, and human rights awareness and leadership programs. The income these women earn is vital to their family’s livelihood and provides a path to their own empowerment.

The impact has been clear. GGP is facilitating positive social change and raising the standard of living for women and their families in the developing world. At the same time, GGP increases awareness in the U.S. of critical global issues and gives families here the ability to impact education, health, and income for families around the world with a single purchase.

What are some of the main issues you’ve come across among developing communities?

There are so many challenges that women and families face on a daily basis in some of the poorest communities around the globe.  Women everywhere want the best for their families; food, shelter, healthcare and education.  I have met many courageous women fighting for their rights to feed, house and educate their children.  These grassroots women leaders are organizing their communities, learning about their rights and implementing policies for future generations.  GGP partner organizations are working to address critical issues such as gender-based violence and exploitation; food security; access to education; basic health services; potable water resources and the list goes on. Grassroots women activists are on the frontlines of meaningful and lasting social change and they need our support.

So what was your strategy for tapping into the US market?

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. 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 target market. We quickly expanded to reaching individuals across the country through our online store, www.globalgoodspartners.org.

What is a project you’re working on now?

GGP provides small grants to our community partner organizations. Recently, we teamed up with a designer who has expertise in product development in the global south, and with funding from the Lester Fund, we provided design assistance and capacity building to a women’s group in Monrovia, Liberia. In another example, we recently awarded a grant to our partner organization in Cambodia that works with at-risk youth and former street children and raises awareness to combat the trafficking of children. The organization, Friends International, has medical outreach teams that provide services for children who are in dire need of medical attention. Funds from GGP are used to purchase the medicine and equipment that they need.

How have you been able to balance your work and travel with having a family?

I try to involve my children in my work and have traveled to Africa with both my kids. I want them to understand what I do. It’s especially important for my daughter to see firsthand that women can have a successful career and a meaningful personal life, which for me included a healthy marriage and children.  There are so many impressive women as role models today.

Did you have any role models when you were around your children’s ages?

There was an incredible teacher I had in high school who inspired me to seek higher education. And there were several professors in graduate school who had been equally inspiring. But there have been people all along the way, even my first boss at Berlitz who was clearly a businesswoman who had risen in the ranks of a corporation. I’ve been very fortunate to have people along the way that gave me the feeling that it’s all possible—you just need to work hard and follow your dreams.

What advice do you have for women?

Don’t give up. If there is an area you are really passionate about, figure out a way to do that type of work, even if it’s by interning, going overseas, volunteering—really plant the seed early on. Don’t postpone everything just because you haven’t landed the perfect job; I’ve taken jobs that have not been ideal, but I’ve learned valuable lessons in each of these experiences. Those lessons have helped to steer me in the right direction of ultimately landing where I’ve wanted to be. It’s okay to take risks when you’re young. If you really are interested, if you have the time, do it.

Links:

Global Goods Partners: http://globalgoodspartners.org

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