Elisabeth Gawlik-Williams is on a mission to help women boost their social impact. A former banker with a passion for doing good, she felt frustrated and unfocused in her own efforts to lead a life of purpose. In a world with so many needs and so many avenues for contributing, how could she best deploy her resources – both personal and financial – to make a real difference?
With women’s earning potential on the rise, Lis knew others must be feeling the same concerns. So, in 2016 she launched AWE Partners, a social impact advisory firm that helps women entrepreneurs and executives “give, invest, and shop for maximum impact.”
Naturally, it was the word “shop” that caught our eye, because so many people still don’t think about their consumer spending as a way to make positive change in the world. More than just advising others, Lis tries to #spendforgood in her own life – and she agreed to share what that looks like.
CC: The big overview question is, Why do you shop in support of social causes?
EGW: I am a HUGE fan of social enterprises. In fact, it’s my vision that one day all businesses will focus on Profit + Purpose. I honestly believe that social enterprises have the power to change the world. If you’re going to shop anyway, why not make choices that are good for people and the planet?
CC: What’s the last item you bought from a social enterprise, and why did you decide to buy it?
The last item I purchased was a new pair of glasses from Warby Parker. I was thrilled when the company arrived on the scene with a cheaper way to buy glasses. But I was even more excited to learn that they were giving the gift of sight to people around the globe who couldn’t afford a pair of glasses.
CC: What’s your favorite thing that you ever bought from a social enterprise, and why?
EGW: My favorite purchases are jewelry and clothing made by women in developing countries who have been given a way to earn money while sharing their creative expression. I literally feel like I’m connected to them every time I wear their creation. And, I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship as a way up and out of poverty.
CC: In your closet right now, what’s your favorite t-shirt with a mission or a message?
EGW: It’s the Captain Marvel t-shirt my kids bought me for my birthday to match our dog’s scarf. There’s no message on it – just the powerful emblem of a female superhero! With the state of the world, I think we all need to dig down deep and unleash our inner superhero.
CC: When you’re looking to buy an item in support of a cause, what’s the cause that tends to move you the most?
EGW: The cause I am most committed to is lifting women and children out of oppression around the globe. There are so many issues that need to be addressed for women to rise into equal partnership with men, and yet less than 2% of philanthropic funding in the U.S. is focused on women and girls. How can this be? If we can bring awareness to these issues through social enterprises that are taking action to effect real and lasting change – then I want to do everything I can to support their mission.
CC: When you’re comparison shopping, how do you balance price vs social impact? How or when do you make the decision that an impact brand might be worth a little more?
EGW: I think an impact brand is always worth a little more – and sometimes a lot more. I’d rather purchase fewer things and be more intentional about the items I do buy. Consumerism has created a culture where we define ourselves by our purchases. Wouldn’t it be great if we could encourage more people to become cause consumers? That could change the world for the better!
CC: Think about your current lifestyle spending: If you wanted to shift roughly $5 a week/$20 a month from “regular” companies to social impact companies, where would be the easiest area to do it?
EGW: The easiest area for me to shift to social impact regularly would be in the food & beverage category since I shop for those items on a weekly basis. Switching to fair trade coffee and chocolate is an easy, and delicious, way to make an impact.
CC: What is one social impact brand or product that you’d like to see featured on Cause Consumer? Whose story should we tell next?
EGW: I’d love to see you feature a beauty product brand such as Beauty Counter because their products are good for our bodies/health and the planet.
Or, I’d love to see you feature sustainable fashion – women’s clothing brands that are impact-focused. I don’t have a list of favorites but would love to have one that could be shared out.
Recently, I saw a TED Talk by Aparna Mehta called “Where do your online returns go?” In it she reveals that instead of ending up back on the shelves, billions of pounds of goods are sent to landfills each year!
This led me to the Netflix documentary called “The True Cost”, which shows how the fast fashion industry depletes the earth’s resources and leverages slave labor to pass along a “cheap” cost to the end consumer. Companies such as Forever 21, H&M, Topshop, and Zara are being called out for producing low-quality merchandise at high volumes that don’t last and end up being thrown away. Add to that the toxic chemicals, dangerous dyes, and synthetic materials which seep into the water supply during production and when the garments are washed in our homes.
To counter this, slow fashion is a movement towards mindful manufacturing, fair labor rights, natural materials, and lasting garments.
Click for good: Want to know more about discovering and actualizing your purpose? AWE Partners offers one-on-one coaching for women in addition to a self-paced online course, Impact from the Inside Out.
Pledge for good: Every week we offer original reporting to help you create a better world with the money you’re spending anyway. Click here to join the movement by taking the Spend-Gooder Pledge. All it takes is 30 seconds (and 0 dollars).