Measurable Pathways to Equity: UNICEF USA’s Cristina Shapiro

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features the President of UNICEF USA’s Impact Fund for Children, Cristina Shapiro.

pathways to equity
Cristina Shapiro (Photo courtesy of Cristina Shapiro)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

Don’t make perfect the enemy of good — or great. Research shows that women feel like they need to be perfect and fully knowledgeable before they contribute or apply to new opportunities — I certainly did, and it likely held me back at the beginning of my career. 

Another thing I wish I realized was that equality and equity are not the same. Though women may have equal rights in many parts of the world, that doesn’t mean they have the same access to opportunities, resulting in significant inequity. As a Hispanic woman in finance, there were very few role models that looked like me. Now, I know it is up to me to help change that dynamic.

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

I joined as President of UNICEF USA’s Impact Fund for Children on March 30th, during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest challenges is to raise attention and funding for international programs related to COVID-19 at a time when people are feeling the crisis domestically. At the Impact Fund, one of our key priorities is to leverage grants and investments from supporters to help UNICEF procure critical personal protective equipment at scale and distribute to over 90 countries.

As a professional working at a nonprofit, I think that many people are also concerned about the future of other programming unrelated to COVID-19. For example, at UNICEF, there are growing concerns that immunization campaigns or education may be interrupted as governments respond to COVID-19. We need to make sure those programs can continue so that children’s needs are met. 

3. What inspires you most about your work?

Within my work, my objective is to find creative ways to use funds from different types of investors and with different appetites for risk. I’ve been inspired by the innovative work UNICEF is doing to help children around the world, and I am thrilled that I get to use innovative finance to scale UNICEF’s ability to help more children survive and thrive. There is not a more important area to invest in than children, and we know that the economy and society as a whole can benefit from efforts that prioritize children’s health, education and more. 

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

I look at problems and opportunities from a lens as a female investor born and raised in Mexico. I was lucky to have access to high quality healthcare, a good education and professional opportunities, but most girls and women around me did not. At Goldman Sachs I led the 10,000 Women program that provides women in emerging markets with access to hands-on business education and capital. I saw first-hand how these women pay it forward to at least nine other women, and in turn reinvest in their families and communities. 

In my new role at UNICEF USA, I look forward to finding innovative ways to fund the growth of initiatives that provide children, but girls in particular, access to the types of opportunities I had growing up. 

5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?

Investing in women and girls has proven time and time again to have a significant return on investment. Research shows that women reinvest in their families and communities, resulting in a multiplier effect. Philanthropy should focus on ensuring women and girls are not just treated equally, but that they are also treated equitably. 

To achieve equity, philanthropy needs a clear theory of change, meaning that efforts to include women must go beyond getting a certain number of women on boards or in leadership. Instead, we must invest in creating measurable pathways that provide equitable opportunities for women to reach those positions. 

6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?

I hope that we see a shift where gender equity is so clearly embedded and incorporated into the work we all do that it becomes normalized, and there is no longer a need for programs targeted specifically for women to ensure they get a fair chance at high-quality education, healthcare, funding and investments. In 2018, Goldman created the Launch with GS initiative, which aims to increase access to capital and facilitate connections for women, Black, Latinx and other diverse entrepreneurs and investors. It emerged in response to the fact that just under 3% of venture capital in the United States goes to women-led teams and, of those, only 1% goes to Black and Latinx founders. As more initiatives like these emerge over the next few years, we need to continue to strive for inclusivity as a core part of all programming and investing.

More on Cristina Shapiro:

Cristina Shapiro is the president of the Impact Fund for Children, an impact investing program of UNICEF USA that uses innovative finance tools to enhance UNICEF’s ability to achieve its mission worldwide for every child. In her previous role, she was the head of global strategy, management and employee engagement for the Goldman Sachs Foundation. In her nine years at Goldman Sachs, she led multiple strategic impact investing and philanthropic initiatives, including the 10,000 Women initiative. Shapiro received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and her MA in Economic Development from Columbia University.

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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