By Joan Shifrin and Catherine Shimony
The idea of founding Global Goods Partners (GGP) came to us after years of working as development professionals, focusing on issues from child labor to disaster relief. Our jobs took us to different parts of the world, where we met amazing women who were creating beautiful, exquisitely made items. Again and again, we were struck by the powerful combination of spirit, talent, and practicality that these women possessed. Despite poverty and great odds, they were supporting themselves and their families and trying to find new ways to improve their lives.
On many occasions, the women were working as part of community-based organizations, which not only provided them with training and support, but also implemented social programs, including local health services and education projects. These organizations were making a measurable impact, both in terms of generating greater income for the women, and as agents of positive change in their communities.
Conscientious consumers in the United States are increasingly aware of how their buying power can support their values. The international fair trade movement—which promotes living wages and safe and healthy working conditions—has had a lot to do with raising this awareness and establishing niche markets for disadvantaged farmers and artisans worldwide.
The community-based organizations that we encountered were well-suited to enter the fair trade market, given their commitment to providing adequate compensation, using locally available resources, and promoting the rights of working women. Recognizing the demand in our country for high-quality imported items, we saw that one of the most efficient and effective steps we could take would be to open new markets for these organizations and their products.
Other trends in international development point to the effectiveness of supporting microenterprises and empowering social-improvement agendas at the grassroots level. While debates will continue concerning the most effective forms of foreign aid, more grantmakers are turning to small, local initiatives to identify community needs and to develop meaningful and effective solutions. Moreover, the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus highlights the ways in which initiatives at the local level can have large-scale impacts on the well-being of individuals, families, and even nations.
In founding GGP, we decided to combine the strength of the fair trade movement with the power of small-scale enterprise and development. Going beyond fair trade, GGP enables people to buy fairly traded products while at the same time promoting the comprehensive advancement of marginalized communities around the world.
The Siyath Foundation, one of our partners in Sri Lanka, teaches women to start and manage their own small enterprises and home-based businesses, and also provides them with on-going skills training to improve their work. In addition, Siyath provides education in literacy and women’s rights to empower the women to manage their own educational programs for neighborhood children, as well as daycare and activities for families affected by the December 2004 tsunami.
While some of our partners operate within and benefit from the fair trade market, there are others that, due to their size, resources, or isolation, lack access to a broad base of consumers for their products. With limited local demand and access to international markets, these initiatives struggle to become self-sustaining. As a nonprofit endeavor, GGP helps to address this problem through technical assistance and capacity-building grants, which are used to improve both the effectiveness of community-development programs and the profitability of enterprises.
In the United States, GGP endeavors to promote the sale of indigenous, handcrafted products, and at the same time increase awareness of the critical issues that affect economic development within the communities where the products are made. GGP’s marketing efforts focus on U.S. schools and corporations and build on the message that we can all be agents of change.
Through all of our work, GGP remains dedicated to a comprehesive approach to poverty alleviation and social justice, maintaining that the components of sustainable community development—including economics, education, health, and gender equality—are interrelated. We understand that in order to make real and lasting progress, communities must be empowered to participate in our globalized world in ways that improve their current quality of life and promote their future success.
Building on an understanding of the effectiveness of fair trade and grassroots development, GGP helps consumers make purchases that benefit communities as a whole, at home and abroad.