Global Thought Leaders: Willa Shalit Brings Women’s Goods to Market

Photo of Willa Shalit

Photo of Willa Shalit

The DailyWorth Global Thought Leader series features exclusive interviews with remarkable entrepreneurs and activists who are striving to improve women’s lives around the world.

Throughout her career, Willa Shalit has sought to empower women. She was the editor of Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing up Female, a producer of The Vagina Monologues. Then she had an epiphany.

“I spent a decade focused on violence against women,” says Shalit, age 55. “But I realized that if women don’t have money, they don’t have power. So I decided to focus on creating economic power for women.”

In 2005, Shalit founded Fairwinds Trading, a for-profit company that connects mostly female artisans in poor countries like Rwanda and Haiti, with American companies, like Macy’s and Starbucks.

The company currently employs some 3,000 basket weavers in Rwanda, for example, helping them earn a wage that’s as much as three times the national average. Those bright baskets are then sold at Macy’s. Last year, Fairwinds Trading had $1.5 million in sales.

Shalit says she’s inspired by the Buddhist phrase “right livelihood”: that you can make money while doing well by others. Money in women’s pockets gives them dignity—and creates stronger communities. Studies show that women are more likely than men to spend their earnings on education, health care and helping others, says Shalit.

Call it compassionate capitalism: rather than give to charity, give a woman a way to make a living. And watch the world around her improve.

Reach out: How do you use your money to make a difference?