News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters nonprofit supports women in agriculture

Julie Escobar and her husband, Gordon Robertson, are living their idyllic life. Their log home in Sisters Country is surrounded by juniper and ponderosa trees. Bounding through a plethora of sagebrush or nestling deep into a doggy bed, their snuggly, precocious pup, Lola, is always ready for the next excursion. Their home looks out on a vast horizon with Black Butte and the Three Sisters welcoming them each morning. Their days are filled with working corporate jobs from their home office and adventures in the High Desert.

Professionally, Escobar has achieved a level of success that allows her to live anywhere she chooses. The couple wanted a home settled comfortably in nature with access to outdoor recreation and in close proximity to people who share their affinity for outdoor sports and exploring nature. They chose a small-town existence as a counterbalance to careers that usually take them around the globe.

There are not enough hours in the day for Escobar. She’s Senior Vice President of Renewable Resources, a private equity group, and is co-founder/president of Global Women Fresh (GWF), a nonprofit she co-founded two years ago. The private equity group specializes and invests in water and water rights in the agricultural sector. Focusing on commercial relationships, the group invests in Latin American agriculture projects like avocados and citrus crops.

“My role is to step in and develop commercial relationship with retailers around the world. I’ve been in the international side of the ag business for the past 20 years. Half of my career was in Latin America and Europe working with growers, consumers, and retailers,” said Escobar from her home office.

For the past 10 years, Escobar’s career has focused in the Asian Pacific Rim. She received her MBA at UCLA and the University of Singapore, which led her to spend a large amount of time in the Asian Pacific Rim. For almost two years, she lived in Singapore. Traveling the world and working with growers, packers, shippers, and retailers, she saw an opportunity and need for women to have a stronger position in the agriculture industry. That’s when the idea for GWF began to take shape.

Even today, in her corporate role, she’s often the only woman in the room. She and other women in her industry wanted to create a global network.

“We wanted to unite people from Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. in one platform,” she told The Nugget. “Our initiative was embraced by corporate entities and governments around the world. They thought it was the perfect time to sponsor gender equality. We hosted an event and the attendance (both male and female) was beyond our expectations. Support like that inspired us to take our ideas to the next level.”

Through her time in the field and the boardroom, Escobar identified some of the missing pieces for women who were trying to grow their businesses, increase productivity, and compete successfully.

“We saw the need to bring more women into corporate life, provide them with opportunities to grow, and move up the corporate ladder,” she said.

The original mission of GWF was to empower, inspire, and connect women around the world.

But they soon realized they were leaving too many women out.

“After receiving feedback that our efforts weren’t addressing 50 percent of the world’s workforce, who were female farmers in the fields, we saw their point and expanded our efforts into five pillars for our organization.

The pillars are: food waste; sustainability; social impact; technology; and innovation.

The five pillars evoked conversation and a question: How could we bring women within the entire supply chain, from the farm level to the executive level? As we grow GWF, we are developing programs that give value-added to these women.”

Currently, there are over 1,000 active members in GWF’s social media outlets. The nonprofit partners with high-level trade shows in the agriculture industry. They host events every two to three months that bring awareness and empower women around the world.

GWF has partnered with organizations like Global Rights for Women, which helps with domestic abuse.

“We recognized there’s a lot of domestic violence, especially with the pandemic, and explored how we could help,” she said.

GWF is also partnering with the United Nations to empower women in Africa.

“We train women in Kenya in business skills like finance and supply-chain. With GWF educational resources, they’re thinking bigger about their business, because they know how business works,” said Escobar. “The UN partnership focused on small farmers. The program called She-Trades included creating webinars to train women in all aspects of business and agriculture. We trained more than 400 women in Africa,” said Escobar.

With GWF’s training, a woman who took the webinar was able to acquire customers in Europe and export her avocados. She expanded her business and provided faster payment to the small growers she works with.

“In Africa, small growers own less than a hectare of land. Usually, the women work the land while the men go away for jobs. With additional skills, the women can better feed their families and create a win-win in the supply chain,” Escobar said.

Working with women and agricultural entities, Escobar knows every situation is different. China or Asia or Europe require culturally focused ways to achieve gender equality.

“We want to have a global discussion to promote gender equality,” Escobar said. “A lot of data says with 10 billion people by 2030, half the population will be women. Eighty to 90 percent of the decisions about feeding families are via women. They have the purchasing power. They need more room at the corporate level in marketing and packaging.”

Even though her nonprofit operates on a global scale, Escobar says they’re open to networking on a local level.

“I know there are a lot of retired professionals in the region. Maybe there are some local women who could give pro bono to the organization?”

Escobar is happy to talk to women with skills in marketing, leadership strategy, business 101, finance, and supply-chain.

“You don’t even need to be an expert, but enjoy being connected to a global community,” she said.

Those who want to get involved may email Escobar [email protected]

“Reach out and we’ll start the conversation,” she said. “I know there are a lot of women who feel a connection to supporting gender equality around the world. Or they might be interested in helping to end domestic violence, or our work with the UN. We can connect them to a bigger mission.”

Helping GWF get exposure and tell the story is another way to help.

“The more talent we bring to the organization, the better for the organization and the more women we can reach,” Escobar said.

The pandemic has forced over two million women to leave their jobs because of family obligations.

“More than ever, we need to support women,” Escobar said. “We want to work with corporate companies, like avocado companies, and encourage them to think about what they’re doing to support their women employees. We’re trying to share those ideas with the global community.”

Escobar is settling into her new life in Sisters Country.

“We’re looking forward to summer,” she said. “This is our first winter in Sisters. It’s been fun with all of the great activities around like snowshoeing with Lola and cross-country skiing. But summer is really one of my favorite seasons... I can’t wait to wear shorts and sandals and go for a good paddleboard session at the lake.”


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