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Gonzalo Pertile, MIDP'17

Gonzalo Pertile (MIDP’17) joined Sanford with an already clear vision of impact. As the co-founder of MESO Goods, a social enterprise that provides sustainable job opportunities for more than 550 artisans from Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru, he was already a champion of environmental stewardship and social impact across global brands, drawing from a rich background in international development and social entrepreneurship to drive meaningful change.

In March 2021, as COVID-19 still locked the world down, Sanford hosted a virtual series that featured prominent figures within the Sanford community. As part of this series, Sanford’s Center for International Development hosted a discussion of corporate citizenship including alumni whose careers exemplify this accountability in the ‘Stand For Corporate Social Responsibility.”

Gonzalo, J.Crew Group’s Director of Sustainability, explained to viewers the global awareness companies must seek.

“We know that we have people impact. We know that we are touching lots of people’s lives. We work in 26 different countries. We need to provide better livelihoods for the people that make our product. We also know that we work in an industry that uses a lot of water. So, we are also working on water stewardship programs in regions where we produce our garments. We understand that there is a climate impact, so we have developed a long-term strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and lower the environmental impact of our products. We must help corporations understand their impact on people and the environment. I think it’s important for them to have a clear vision for the path toward sustainability.”

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three panelists speaking at a sustainability conference
Gonzalo (left) speaking at a recent sustainability panel. 

Today, Gonzalo continues his vision, leading the environmental sustainability and social impact efforts for the group brands, including J.Crew, J.Crew Factory, and Madewell. Informed by his Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) degree from Sanford, he has worked in international development with organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Originally from Montevideo, Uruguay, Gonzalo studied business management at Universidad de Montevideo before joining Sanford’s MIDP program in 2015. He is staying active as a Duke alum and as a DukeNY Regional Board Member and recently brought closing remarks at Sanford’s Frank Bruni event in NYC last month. He now calls Williamsburg, Brooklyn home, and spends his free time exploring art and design museums and traveling.

We asked Gonzalo for his views on how Sanford has shaped his life and career.

What impact has Sanford had on your professional and/or personal journey?

Sanford has had a significant impact on my professional and personal journey by providing me with the education and skills necessary for a career in the intersection of public policy and corporate social responsibility and opening my mind to a multicultural environment. My Sanford experience has been vital; from having classmates from all over the world who became lifelong friends to working at the United Nations HQ during my summer internship and having colleagues from around the globe, these experiences have been foundational in shaping my career trajectory and my ability to navigate complex organizations to drive impactful initiatives.

Why does public policy matter in 2024 and beyond? 

Public policy remains crucial as it addresses current challenges such as sustainability, social justice, and economic development. My work at J.Crew Group on sustainability initiatives like Circularity, Fair Trade, and Carbon Footprint & Climate Action underscores the role of public policy in guiding corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Effective public policies help create frameworks that enable businesses to contribute positively to society while maintaining accountability and transparency. Particularly in the fashion industry, policy and regulations are taking a critical role in driving action at a large scale. I’m thankful I have the tools from Sanford to help my organization anticipate and get ready to comply with the new regulatory environment.

What is the most interesting highlight so far in your career?

One of the most interesting highlights in my career is the co-founding of Meso Goods. This social design enterprise has provided sustainable income for over 550 indigenous artisans in Guatemala. This venture not only generated significant revenue and grant funding for artisans’ development but also had a substantial social impact by increasing the daily income of artisans fivefold. This experience demonstrates my ability to blend entrepreneurship with social responsibility, making a meaningful difference in the lives of many.

Terry Sanford implored students to 'stand for something.'  What do you stand for?

Inspired by Terry Sanford's call to "stand for something," I stand for sustainable development, social justice, and corporate responsibility. My career reflects a commitment to creating positive social and environmental impacts, from improving supply chain sustainability at J.Crew Group to enhancing the livelihoods of artisans through Meso Goods. I believe in leveraging business and policy to drive systemic change and improve the quality of life for communities around the world

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