Gonzalo Pertile (MIDP ’17) was just named director of corporate social responsibility for clothing retailer J. Crew

Gonzalo, we’re really excited for you back here at DCID, and we want to hear all about your new role. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what experiences led you to where you are now. You’re the co-founder and social impact manager of the organization MESO Goods. Tell us about that.

MESO Goods is a for-profit social enterprise that I co-founded in 2010, and it focuses on promoting economic development for artisans and handworkers, providing them access to international markets with fair working conditions and preserving cultural traditions. It began as a side project while I was working for the Inter-American Development Bank, and our distinctive approach, blending handcrafted centuries-old techniques with modern design, helped us to quickly develop into one of the leading Guatemalan companies exporting handcrafted goods, allowing us to partner with U.S. retailers like Anthropologie, West Elm, Target, Paper Source, Free People among others. The most important part is that through our work we are able to change people’s lives, contributing to improve their livelihoods.

After you graduated from the MIDP program in 2017, you stayed on as a research associate here. What was your project?

Yes, I was glad to be able to spend more time at Duke, and see it from a completely different perspective. I worked as an Associate in Research for a project with the Ministry of Economy of Guatemala, helping them to develop the transparency and modernization strategic plan.

In March, you started as director of corporate social responsibility at J. Crew. This is a big job!

My new role combines all of my passions, it brings together all of my previous work experiences, taking them to a whole new level, where the scale of impact is much greater. The fashion industry is at a turning point, where consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of garments, and brands and retailers are changing their business practices, incorporating sustainability and innovation in fibers and materials, improving workers’ conditions in factories, working with transparency and visibility throughout the supply chain, and reducing their footprint on the environment. Being in a position where you can affect the path of a company and contribute towards moving in a positive direction, to a more sustainable future is really exciting.

It’s clear that you have been passionate about these kinds of issues for a long time. Why did you choose the MIDP program for your Master’s degree?

I had worked at the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID projects in Guatemala, so I was looking for a program focused on international development that would allow me to grow professionally in the field. Investing 2 years of your life in school is a big decision, so I also wanted a degree from a highly recognized university that would contribute to advance my career. When I found the Rotary Peace Fellowship opportunity, I learned about the MIDP program at DCID, and since it combined all of my requirements, I instantly knew that it was the perfect option for me!

What were some of your favorite aspects of the program?

I liked the flexibility that the program offers, being able to choose your own courses from across schools in Duke and other universities. Except for the core courses, the program allows you to tailor the coursework according to your professional objectives, and in my case I was able to mix my policy classes from Sanford with classes from the business school, the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and UNC. The diversity of the program is also great, class discussions get nurtured by the perspectives of fellows from all over the world, coming from different sectors with remarkable work experiences. Studying in this program is a unique experience and spending 2 years at Duke opens up a world of opportunities!

Do any lessons stand out as particularly relevant to your current role?

The importance of looking at the greater picture, evaluating all the stakeholders involved and analyzing and synthesizing data in order to make well-informed decisions. Also, understanding the roles and interconnections of various sectors and particularly the responsibility that the private sector has in doing business in a socially and environmentally conscious way that creates a positive impact.

What advice do you have for current MIDP fellows?

I would first encourage them to make the most out of their time at Duke, select classes that can help them leapfrog in their professional careers or shift towards the direction that they want to take and use all the amazing resources, guest speakers and alumni networks that Duke has to offer. Transitioning back into the professional world can sometimes be challenging, so it’s important to keep a positive attitude, reach out to your networks and be patient until the right opportunity comes your way.

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