Helping women in need
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
Sorry, young singles; Global Girlfriend is not an international online dating service. But that doesn’t mean it lacks passion or camaraderie.
Global Girlfriend, an online fair trade boutique, was founded in 2003 by 1995 Social Work graduate Stacey Edgar; Edgar created the website in an effort to help women in poverty find a market for their products in the United States. Long term, Edgar said, she hoped that the site would help women worldwide gain economic security, while simultaneously providing customers with unique products and with a simple way to help women in need.
Global Girlfriend offers an array of “trendsetting, women-made, fair trade products” with the purpose of helping women in need to help themselves, the site explains.
“We believe passionately that economic opportunity for women holds the promise for real change in the world,” Edgar explained, “because when women have an income, they reinvest in themselves and in their children's health, education and nutrition, building stronger families and communities over time.”
In the seven years since it got its start, Global Girlfriend has grown to have sales of over 2 million annually. The company also now provides employment and market opportunities for more than 50 women’s cooperatives and small businesses; these organizations employ low-income artisans in 21 countries worldwide.
But Edgar refuses to take sole credit for the company’s success. She praises her mother-in-law, Brenda, for being her inspiration, and credits her own girlfriends as playing the largest role in getting Global Girlfriend “off of the ground.”
“I found a brain-trust at my kids’ bus stop,” Edgar explained. “Those people served as invaluable resources, as grassroots partners…and as volunteer staff at countless home parties and events during our first three years in business. My girlfriends at home, who helped in every aspect, and my girlfriends abroad, who made our first products and trusted us to be their marketing arm in the U.S., were the real catalysts to our eventual success.”
Global Girlfriend currently has nine staff members (five full-time and four part-time), four independent commissioned sales representatives around the country, and a warehouse staff. And they all feel the pressure to succeed.
Living with the weight of the company’s commitment to women in poverty, Edgar said, is most difficult part of the business; the staff members are very aware that people’s livelihoods are depending on their sales efforts and their success.
“I know firsthand that if we don’t do our jobs well, some women we support will go hungry and their children will not go to school – bottom line,” Edgar said. “This is the hardest part of my job, but it also provides a bottomless source of inspiration.”
Edgar said that she has learned a great deal about the world community and about the extreme challenges faced worldwide from her work with Global Girlfriend; she has also learned that commitment to small, steady actions really can make an impact for women in poverty. The most fun part of the job, Edgar said, is seeing the company’s artisan partners’ lives change for the better.
“When I visit a woman who has been able to improve her housing, to send her kids to school, to add electricity or a clean water source to her home, and to feel empowered as an income earner for her family…that is fun,” Edgar explained.
Edgar said that the education she received from the University of Illinois played a big role in getting her to where she is today, and referred to her Master’s of Social Work as “the ultimate business degree.”
“The things I learned in my courses – including counseling and mediation skills, case management, human behavior, community outreach, client advocacy, collaboration and resource sharing, research skills, and how to stretch a small budget to make the biggest impact – have been the bedrock skills I’ve needed in founding a growing a successful social enterprise.” Edgar said. “Who knew social work and purse sales could go hand-in-hand?”
As Edgar has shown, it takes an avid social entrepreneur.