Facilitating market access for elevated, fair design
GLOBAL GOODS PARTNERS 1
Global Goods Partners provides training and design guidance to carefully vetted partner organizations.
GLOBAL GOODS PARTNERS New York, United States
Joan Shifrin and Catherine Shimony, co-founders and co-presidents of the artisan market access and training enterprise Global Goods Partners (GGP), established the nonprofit after serving at other international grantmaking organizations. “The ambition was to create economic opportunity for women,” explains Shifrin. “We felt that there were fewer barriers for [women to] work [in the artisan sector], because skills were already being handed down from generation to generation.” Their goal was to “provide reliable sources of income for women” and ultimately “break the cycle of poverty through income generation.” They took their skills and prior experiences and began, with the launch of GGP in 2005, working to “build a market for [women’s] goods.” The online market features home goods, jewelry, accessories, gifts, and items for kids. “We were early to ecommerce,” Shifrin says, noting that GGP works on both the supply and demand for goods produced by artisans. “Our model is to support the innovation of [our partners]. Our staff works with [our] partners to [help them] produce marketable goods, and at the same time … [we] support sales with a market access program.” Partners are artisan enterprises, and include social enterprises, community-based organizations,
cooperatives, and associations. Since the founding in 2005, GGP has partnered with 60+ artisan enterprises in more than 20 countries; 30+ of those partnerships are currently active. GGP works with partners on designing products that will be able to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Since the margins are low, Shifrin and Shimony chose to operate as a nonprofit. “The training and design skills we offer are important to the success of our partner enterprises,” explains Shifrin. “We wouldn’t be competitive with other brands if we had to factor the cost of training into the price of our products.” Instead, GGP raises funds to support that portion of their mission; approximately 30% of their budget comes from individual giving and small grants. Goods produced by their partners are sent to a central warehouse in Queens (New York City), where a GGP staff member fulfills e-commerce, wholesale, and private label orders (Macy’s has been one of their largest clients). Of the total amount they’ll pay partners for a shipment, 50% is paid upfront, while the remainder is paid upon delivery to the warehouse. “We do a lot of financial training [with our partners],” says Shifrin. “Accounting, inventory control, human resources, and we help to fund financial literacy.” 3
While training helps produce more marketable products, quality control can be a challenge. “Even some of the more sophisticated partners don’t always get it right,” says Shifrin. “We’re enforcing quality control more strictly. It’s done [by partners] and again when [product] comes to our warehouse.”
«[We remain a nonprofit because] the training and design skills we offer are important to the success of our partner enterprises. We wouldn’t be competitive with other brands if we had to factor the cost of training into the price of our products.» - JOAN SHIFRIN, CO-FOUNDER & CO-PRESIDENT
This focus on quality is connected to an increased competitiveness GGP feels in the market. “The younger generation is interested in ethical shopping, but we are getting crowded out by Amazon Handmade and other platforms that aggregate ‘ethically made products.’ So we’ve become much more product-focused. We have to be successful in the marketplace,” says Shifrin. 4
PARTNER VETTING One of the strategies GGP uses to achieve success, both for itself, its partner organizations, and frontline artisans, is thoughtful and extensive partner vetting. A rigorous review is all the more important given that GGP tries to make a three-year commitment to the organizations with which it works. While the primary criteria is that partners “are women-focused, women-led,” the way GGP identifies partners “has evolved,” notes Shifrin. “At the outset, we knew a few of the organizations through prior work. Now they find us, or we find them online. There are many referrals.” Partners must pay fair wages, have healthy working environments, and artisans must have a voice “in how things are run. 80% of [the products we sell] are designed in collaboration with artisans.” Partnerships begin with an in-depth application that includes over 50 questions focused on organizational structure and programs, artisan wages and support, production processes, and the partner’s current approach to selling and exporting. GGP uses the United Nations Human Development Index, which reports country wage information, and World Bank statistics to judge whether or not a fair wage is [currently] being paid.”
Though the vetting is extensive, the benefits of partnership are clear and have resulted in measurable impact. Through a partnership with Morgan Stanley, GGP uses an “equation that translates [the] money spent in a community to the purchasing power it generates.” It can evaluate this for any partner. Each year, GGP also calculates its “Total Transfer to Women and Families” by “adding the total amount of purchase orders [it] places with … partners plus grants [it has] awarded to … partners within a given year.” This number is “essentially … the amount we invest in local communities,” says Shifrin. In a recent year, the Total Transfer to partners was over $390,000, which, using its impact equation, translated to over $7 million in community economic impact. These results were more than Shifrin could have predicted when GGP was first launched. “We’re much broader than we originally envisioned, even though we are tiny” (GGP has five full-time, U.S.-based staff members). “We wanted to be an alternative to school fundraising sales. Instead of wrapping paper and cookie dough sales, we wanted to sell artisans’ work. But the margins weren’t there – we couldn’t offer 50% back to the fundraising school. It wasn’t practical. We had to enter the marketplace.” 5
GGP’S PARTNERSHIP APPLICATION
« The younger generation is interested in ethical shopping, but we are
As part of its vetting process, GGP requires potential partners to respond to an application that includes over 50 questions focused on organizational structure and programs, artisan wages and support, production processes, and selling and exporting. Excerpts from this “Application for Partnership” are below. At GGP, “partners” is a term that encompassses artisan enterprises operating as social enterprises, community-based organizations, cooperatives, and associations.
Do producers Please explain:
Is there a minimum wage in your country? Does your wage structure meet the minimum country requirements? In order for us to get an idea of the cost of living in your community, please list the average local cost for the basic expenses listed below, and feel free to add additional expenses: ____ 1 month of primary school education: ____ 1 month of food for a family of 6: ____ Cost of 1 doctor visit: ____ 1 month of rent or house payment: How does your organization use the profits from product sales? (Please describe if any profits are allocated to social or development programs).
Selections from Part I: Organizational Structure and Programs How many women artisans work with you on a regular basis? How many male artisans? Briefly explain the organization’s leadership structure and staff. How many people are involved? What type of democratic working procedures do you use? For example, do artisans vote on and elect the leadership of the organization? What are the organization’s major community development programs? Briefly describe them. Examples: child day care, health education, women’s rights trainings, craft training, financial training, etc. If you receive donations, please list your major (top 3) funding sources (from either foundations, aid agencies, governments, or individuals) with amounts and dates. Selections from Part II: Artisans & Wages If artisans are paid hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly, what is the wage rate? If artisans are paid by piece, how do you determine the labor cost of the product?
Selections from Part III: Products and Production Process Are raw materials purchased – if so where? Are raw materials hand made by the artisans (for example, do the artisans produce their own yarns for weaving by shearing sheep, spinning thread, etc.)? Are the artisans involved in the creative design of the products? Does your group have the capacity to create new designs at least every 3-4 months? Do you have the ability to regularly email photos of new designs and samples? Are there certain times of the year GGP should be aware of that impede production and/or transportation, such as rainy seasons? Are particular raw materials only available during certain times of the year? If so, please explain. How does the organization monitor quality? Do you have the ability to produce multiple products with great consistency in terms of size, shape, texture, color, and design? (Please note: GGP sells primarily online so it is VERY important that orders for the same product are uniform and have the exact same quality and look as the samples or photos provided by you.)
getting crowded out by Amazon Handmade and other platforms that aggregate ‘ethically made products.’ So we’ve become much more productfocused. We have to be successful in the marketplace. »
- JOAN SHIFRIN, CO-FOUNDER & CO-PRESIDENT
REFLECTION QUESTIONS “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” - John Dewey, educational theorist and New School co-founder The DEED Lab’s case study series is meant to provoke dialogue among members, supporters, funders, and consumers of the global artisan sector—and to inform the next generation of designer-entrepreneurs. First, we hope that readers of any case study we publish will consider the overall state of the global artisan sector. Given that it is a $500B+ industry, why, then, are the majority of indigenous artisans living in poverty and socially isolated? And now that you’ve read about Global Goods Partners (GGP), we invite you to further reflect using the short set of questions below. While some of these questions specifically reference the case study, all of the questions are meant to generate broader dialogue about the sector. •
Organizations across the case study series define “ethically made” differently, sometimes putting the onus on the ethics of the maker, and other times on middle entities that buy and distribute product. How would you define “ethically made”?
Looking over GGPs’ partnership application, which questions stand out as particularly effective? Which questions would you revise, or what additional questions would you include?
GGP is known for its vetting of partner organizations. How extensively should organizations like GGP vet artisan organizations? What obligations does GGP have to consumers and to individual artisans? How might GGP better convey to consumers their commitment to vetting partners?
This case study was written in 2020 by Robert Burack, DEED Lab Fellow, with editing, compilation, and interviewing support from Elizabeth Bailey, Luciana Jabur, Alik Mikaelian, and DEED Lab Director Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo. It was designed by Silvia Garuti. Our gratitude to the Global Goods Partners team, including Co-Founder and Co-President Joan Shifrin, for their participation. The information presented in our case study series is drawn from a combination of desktop research and qualitative interviews. The content and views in this document do not necessarily represent Parsons School of Design or The New School. This information is shared for educational purposes purposes and should not be read as a seal of approval.
DEED is a research lab based at Parsons School of Design that focuses on the future of indigenous artisans and their children. Through fieldwork programs, strategic partnerships, and research, our focus is on models that equally support poverty alleviation, artisan empowerment, and cultural preservation. This case study is one of several available at deed.parsons.edu