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7 Questions – Nina Smith (GoodWeave USA)

I am pleased to welcome to GoodWorks … Nina Smith, Executive Director of GoodWeave USA! GoodWeave USA combats child exploitation in the handmade rug industry by recruiting manufacturers to make and sell child-labor-free carpets and by providing schooling and opportunities to rescued children. Read on for her inspiration, advice, and everyday heroes:

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We’re partnering with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on a major permanent exhibition entitled Invisible: Slavery Today. GoodWeave is one of four NGO partners in this exhibit, which highlights the issue of modern-day slavery and the many ways that nearly 27 million people around the world are living as slaves. The stories of children who GoodWeave has rescued from slavery and their poignant images are prominently featured. I was there for the exhibition opening on October 8th. The museum is a very special place and the Invisible exhibit is the only one of its kind. It has great potential to raise awareness and move people to action through their purchasing practices, philanthropy, and advocacy.

2. What else are you up to?

GoodWeave rescues and educates child laborers exploited by the carpet industry, but the heart of our work is certifying child-labor-free rugs so that consumers can help break the cycle of child labor through their purchasing power. It’s essential that individuals are made aware of their choices and how they can end inhumane labor practices. So last year we launched our traveling photo exhibition, Faces of Freedom to take child labor out from behind the carpet looms and into the public eye. The exhibition has traveled all over the US and Canada, to showrooms, conferences, airports and museums, to the US Capitol and the World Bank, and to other venues to reach an estimated 680,000 people. Anyone can view the exhibition at Faces of Freedom.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

I got involved in the movement to end child slavery because of a boy named Iqbal Masih. Iqbal was a carpet slave at the age of four and escaped servitude at 10. He became an activist on behalf of other exploited children and eventually won the Reebok Human Rights Award — in 1994. Iqbal used his freedom to fight for others, speaking throughout the US and Europe to raise awareness about the epidemic of child labor in the industry. He inspired thousands of schoolchildren to get involved. Upon his return to Pakistan, Iqbal’s life was tragically cut short: he was murdered for his activism. His death helped to inspire the birth of GoodWeave (then RugMark). I read Iqbal’s story in a Vanity Fair feature after his death and realized the work that needed to be done in his memory.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

I have so many heroes in the nonprofit world, but I’m not a big believer in “hero worship.” Good leaders are essential and I admire many, such as Gillian Caldwell (formerly 1Sky and Witness); John Wood (Room to Read) or Caryl Stern (US Fund for UNICEF). But it’s the staff of our organization and others that work from every level — administration to fundraising, communications to social work — that are the everyday heroes.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

The single greatest challenge to GoodWeave’s work and to the social change sector in general is inaction. Our society values bottom-line profits and material wealth above compassion and sustainability. It’s widely documented that children are being exploited to perform all sorts of tasks in our global economy, and there is something very specific we can do to put a stop to these inhumane practices. Yet there are still people — whether individuals in the corporate sector, consumers or others — who question whether this is true and are extremely slow to act. We’re all going to have to change individually to see the large-scale change that’s needed.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

If you’re inspired — get involved, volunteer, do anything within your reach. You don’t need special degrees or a lot of work experience to make a meaningful contribution. There’s a lot of work to do: one in seven children worldwide are caught in exploitative working conditions. There are needs for volunteers with all interests and backgrounds, whether advocacy, direct services, or fundraising.

7. What’s next?

GoodWeave certified rugs are going to be available in Macy’s Department Stores nationwide very soon. We’re planning promotions surrounding this important milestone, and encourage anyone interested in this or our work in general come to our website and sign up for our e-newsletter to be kept up to date.

(And … I just signed up. You should too!)

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