Greer Goodman and Joy Kolin: “Don’t wait for tomorrow to do what you can do today”

We are both motivated by travel, social good and bringing unique products to market. So, we began to plan a combined collection that would have a multiplier effect on social impact in terms of supporting the destination partners we work with in India and Africa, and providing additional capital for Giving Joy grants for women […]

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We are both motivated by travel, social good and bringing unique products to market. So, we began to plan a combined collection that would have a multiplier effect on social impact in terms of supporting the destination partners we work with in India and Africa, and providing additional capital for Giving Joy grants for women entrepreneurs.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greer Goodman and Joy Kolin, collaborators on the Modern Joy collection.

Greer Goodman and Joy Kolin are social impact entrepreneurs who are collaborating on “Modern Joy,” a collection of ethically, globally sourced gifts that support destination partners in India and Africa. Proceeds from the sales fund microgrants for women entrepreneurs. The partnership has a multiplied impact: supporting a local, independent business, supporting international artisans and partners that make the goods, and supporting female entrepreneurs in the US and abroad through microgrants.

Greer has a background in Interior Architecture and several years of experience as a retail buyer and merchandiser. She combined her love of simple, useful design with her passion for travel to found Abroad Modern, a tiny retail storefront and online shop specializing in the utilitarian objects that simplify and beautify daily life, all sourced while traveling in collaboration with and providing income for the people she meets along the way.

Joy is an international development professional with close to two decade’s experience living and working in over 60 countries. She leveraged her overseas experience to create Giving Joy, a social enterprise that provides micro-grants to women entrepreneurs worldwide.

Greer and Joy met in 2019, when they were doing local pop-up shops, and immediately recognized the kinship in their respective businesses, both in how they ethically sourced products and in their social impact initiatives. “Modern Joy” was the result of a mutual interest in multiplying the impact they could make individually.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Greer: My path was full of twists and turns. My love for design and objects started young, fueled by countless hours with my mother at The Art Institute of Chicago. After several early career paths that always centered on design, I received my Masters in Interior Design from Pratt Institute in 2005 and worked as a freelance designer for a few years. Once I had my first child, I turned my talents to my own home, but took on some part-time retail work to keep my sanity. Over the years, I worked with several small shops, helping many of them build their stores and brands from the ground up. I guess I caught the retail bug, and I knew that I eventually wanted my own little shop, something more than just a pretty store selling pretty things, that dynamically combined design goods and services for a richer retail experience.

In 2019, at a bit of a professional and personal crossroads, I visited friends in India. On the first day, I met Sajid Hussain, an affable rickshaw driver, who would ultimately change my life forever. I spent a week in the back of his rickshaw, zipping down tiny alleys and taking in all of the non-tourist attractions of Udaipur, gaining a greater knowledge of the culture through its tiny shops and objects of use. A friendship emerged and before I even left, I knew I’d be back.

A few months later, Sajid’s cranky old rickshaw broke down beyond repair. His livelihood was shattered and his options were limited. I started a GoFundMe campaign to buy him a used rickshaw. But at that moment, I also realized that I could create a business, source the utilitarian objects from India that I loved, and employ Sajid as a buyer! With shockingly little more thought, I bought a ticket to Udaipur, secured a month-long Pop-Up lease at a local market and set to work on my proverbial shingle. After the success of the pop-up, Abroad Modern took permanent residence in Cambridge, MA’s smallest commercial space, the beloved and historic O’reilly Spite House.

Joy: At the age of 3, my mom put me and my brother on an 11-hour plane ride from Texas to visit our grandparents in Israel. The excitement and anticipation of that early adventure instilled in me a life-long desire to travel, experience new cultures, see new places, and help people live better lives. After graduating with degrees in International Relations, I began a career at the nexus of health, development and conflict management working and living in the Middle East and later in sub-Saharan African. My career in international development has fueled my passion for travel and has taken me to over 60 countries.

During my travels, I encountered amazing and inspiring people, particularly women, with brilliant ideas but lacking the opportunity, capital and confidence to be self sustaining. Leveraging 20 years’ experience in international development, I founded Giving Joy, a social enterprise supporting both women in the US and in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Giving Joy is a multi-dimensional organization that brings to market beautiful handiworks made by women worldwide and uses the proceeds to fund micro-grants awarded to female entrepreneurs. I also advise for- and nonprofit, women-led organizations worldwide on business planning, grant writing and resource mobilization.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Joy: When I was in Bangladesh, I bought over 100 silk scarves from a local women’s collaborative and at the airport in Dhaka, I was asked a lot of questions why I needed so many scarves and if I intend to sell them overseas. My answer was that I have a very large family and these are all gifts. The airline people just laughed and let me go on my way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Greer: I make mistakes every day! Most of them aren’t that funny, but one has to be particularly good-humored when so many things can literally be lost in translation working with makers and suppliers in another country, primarily via WhatsApp. There are definitely times when it takes extra hard work to make myself and my products needs understood, as a result of both language and cultural barriers. And even when I think everything is totally worked out, I still sometimes open shipments and am surprised by what has and hasn’t made it into the parcel.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Greer: Joy and I met at a local pop-up market last year, and were immediately drawn to one another’s shops and backstory — and mutually interested in the greater impact a small retail establishment could potentially have. We decided to unite our brands in a fun and meaningful way.

We are both motivated by travel, social good and bringing unique products to market. So, we began to plan a combined collection that would have a multiplier effect on social impact in terms of supporting the destination partners we work with in India and Africa, and providing additional capital for Giving Joy grants for women entrepreneurs.

Locally (and personally) our partnership at this moment amid the pandemic is especially important. As everyone knows, small businesses are struggling. In addition to the loss of revenue, as a single-mom attempting to remote-teach two kids, it would be virtually impossible for me to keep my business alive on my own. Working together, Joy and I can pool resources, share the workload and keep one another inspired. We are also working on initiatives and limited-edition products with several other small businesses, many local, and woman and/or POC-owned. It’s so clear that we are all stronger together right now!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Joy: Giving Joy provides micro-grants of up to $500 to women entrepreneurs in the US and internationally through a competitive grant process. We often find that it is not just the money that helps these women succeed, but the feeling that someone believes in them and wants to back them that drives them forward.

We have given close to 20 grants since our founding in 2018, and the need continues to grow. One example is the grant we recently gave to Jessica Sanon, the founder of Systemic Flow, which aims to address the current shortage of STEM degree holders who identify as women of color in the US. Jessica’s program is designed to provide students with the opportunity to take prerequisite courses in high school that will increase and retain their participation in STEM in college. Jessica, who failed Calculus 1 during her first semester in college and struggled to earn her Math degree, used the grant to enhance the organization’s online presence, develop a student blackboard for classroom learning and to promote tutoring and one-on-one services.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Joy: A big part of helping the people that we focus on would be encouraging people to buy from small businesses, and to learn to appreciate the craftsmanship and uniqueness of products that are sourced from small businesses or craftsmen around the world. There’s also an opportunity to offer webinars and training for women who want to start their own businesses and to create an incubator for seed funding.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Joy: I think leadership is not being front and center but identifying people’s skills, leveraging those skills, helping them address gaps, and lifting them up to fulfill their potential. For example, I have been helping a Brazilian non profit in Massachusetts for about a year now. The Executive Director was very timid and afraid to collaborate with non-Brazilian organizations as well as ask donors for funding. Instead of me going to donors, I coached her how to talk to donors, and foster relationships, as well as how to expand her network. As a result she found funds for a youth center and is offering a variety of after school classes for Brazilian youth in science, robotics and math through collaboration with Tufts and other universities.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Joy: The things I wish I knew are all about logistics! I wish someone had told me everything will cost more than I budgeted for, updating a website takes a lot longer than I anticipated, and overseas shipping and logistics are a lot more complex than I expected — you need to plan way in advance.

Greer: I agree wholeheartedly with all of that. And I’ll add that I now know you cannot do it all, at least not particularly well — so outsource where you can and find professionals to bolster your weaknesses. In that vein, get a mentor. Most entrepreneurs, especially women, don’t ask for help or mentoring, but it’s crucial to success. It also would have been nice to get a heads up on the global pandemic that would arise mere months after I opened my business!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Joy: I would say that women are so much stronger than they think. They should be bolder and seek to achieve their dreams. It is possible.

Greer: I suppose the two things that I would work towards would be Universal Childcare for parents as well as private and public support for parents who stay at home with their children. And working against education inequality, here and abroad. Making free, quality education available to all children, all around the globe. I really feel that these are the responsibilities of our government AND corporations, and this pandemic made that abundantly clear.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Joy: Don’t wait for tomorrow to do what you can do today. LIfe is truly short so to quote Nike, “Just do it.”

Greer: “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” -Madonna

I have to use this as a mantra sometimes, to remind myself to be tough, ambitious and trust in what I want. To go ahead and be a strong bitch in a society that is always telling women to behave.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Joy: Elizabeth Warren is a true inspiration for women in Massachusetts, in the US and globally. I admire her practical solutions to very complicated problems and she epitomizes to me what I am trying to do with Giving Joy by giving opportunities to women and opening the door for them to achieve their potential.

Greer: Of course there are many women of influence that I would love to talk to, but honestly right now, in this age of poorly controlled viruses and travel bans, I’d like to be able to be in Udaipur, sharing a meal with the Hussains. Likewise, I would love to have Sajid’s son Sammer to dinner at my home. But we have a government that makes it very difficult for ambitious students seeking to come to the States to improve their furtures if they happen to be poor, Brown, or Muslim.

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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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