Gilda Charles

Cornell Women’s Advocacy Network: Women in Social Impact

Gilda holds an MBA degree from the Johnson Graduate School of Management. She currently serves as a product manager at Instagram, where she is focused on enabling a culture of giving on the platform. Prior to joining Instagram, Gilda was a product manager for PayPal where she led an end-to-end revamp of PayPal’s flagship donations processing solution. Before that, she worked at Walmart, where she launched a zero-to-one charitable registry platform that enables nonprofits to curate lists of products they need while allowing donors the ability to support causes that they are passionate about. She spent the first half of her career working directly in the international nonprofit space on a range of issues from financial inclusion to climate policy.

What drew you to a career in social impact?

During my freshman year of college, I took a course entitled “Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa.” The class examined a range of global conflicts through the framework of Ubuntu—an African philosophy that translates imperfectly into English as “I am because of you.” Whether analyzing the genocide in Rwanda or the 2004 coup d’état in Haiti, Dr. Walton Johnson stretched the bounds of our thinking beyond the “us versus them” binary and encouraged us to identify solutions that honored the integrity of every member of the collective. My desire to live out the philosophy of Ubuntu is what ultimately drew me to launch a career (with many twists and turns) in the social impact field.

What most excites you about your work?

At Instagram Giving, we are working to make Instagram a destination where people come together to effortlessly support the causes they care about. Our mission takes on a whole new level of importance in this economic environment. As the economy contracts, nonprofits face increasing funding shortfalls—undermining their ability to provide critical services to target populations. I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to work with an insanely talented team to inspire new ways for people to support nonprofits in furthering their missions.

Do you have any piece of advice for Cornellians starting out or transitioning into a career in social impact?

1) Relentlessly pursue your curiosities. Pay close attention to the things that stir something inside of you. They can serve as an indication of what you should devote your energy toward.

2) The social impact sector is wide and incredibly varied. The quicker you can discover your interests, the better positioned people will be to help you along your path.

What role has the Cornell network played along your career?

Cornell, and specifically the Johnson community, has played an instrumental role in helping me advance my career. During my first year at Johnson, I took part in the Sustainable Global Enterprise immersion—a practicum designed to help students develop a practical understanding of sustainability issues in the context of business. A hallmark feature of the immersion is that students are paired with leading companies to work on complex sustainability challenges. In addition to helping me deepen my understanding of corporate sustainability, the immersion enabled me to develop hands-on experience that helped to facilitate my transition to the private sector.

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