Updated: Feb 17, 2021
AB/Community is an interview series featuring some of the amazing women we work with. Read on to learn about who they are and what they’ve gained from coaching.
Meet Abby Goldberg, the founder and president of Variant Strategies, an agency that helps clients achieve business and social impact goals through innovative media, advocacy, branding, design, and marketing.
Describe yourself in 1-2 sentences.
I am a social entrepreneur, filmmaker, advocate, strategist, and communicator. My life’s work is based on my passion for social justice and human rights.
You have such a fascinating career! What were some of the pivotal moments that led you to where you are today?
Probably the most pivotal moment in my career was the decision to move to NY to join an organization that hadn’t really gotten started as the third, founding member of their team. It was my first capital “J” job, and I felt like the decision to take it would make or break my future career.
I researched the founder and liked what I learned. She was a brilliant women’s rights lawyer, teaching at Harvard Law School at the time, and had founded the Center for Reproductive Rights, a very successful non-profit.
I liked the mission and vision of the organization, the Global Justice Center (GJC), which focused on empowering women to access political leadership and justice, at the highest levels. The founder used to say that, until we had women in government, we would never have reproductive rights.
I learned so much during my four years at GJC, from how to find and build an office, to how to build a board of directors, how to manage staff, how to fundraise, and everything in between. I led legal training and global advocacy campaigns. I worked very hard and created opportunities for growth.
Working as deputy director of the New Media Advocacy Project (NMAP) was also a critical time for me professionally. Among many other things, I learned to be a filmmaker, which I absolutely love and do to this day.
Critical to my work is that it always be partner/client-led. I learned that lesson first in Haiti, where I worked for many years.
I once went to lead a training about democracy with a group of Haitian women. Specifically, the training was on how to report reasons for not voting in the election, such as the lines were too long or they didn’t have child care.
I showed up to lead this training and within the first 10 minutes someone asked, “why would I want to vote?” It occurred to me that in a country where the last time the majority won an election, the President was ousted by a U.S.-led coup. So her question made sense. Why should she feel motivated to vote?
It highlighted for me the importance of working hand-in-hand with my partners when developing projects to ensure the project was productive and meaningful to the intended audience.
Your company, Variant Strategies, enhances social impact. What called you to do this work and why is it important?
I have been a human rights advocate since before I can remember.
In high school, I worked with immigrant communities—tutoring kids after school. The fact that I was so privileged compared to them made me feel committed to helping to lessen that inequality.
In college, I studied abroad in Cuba, which further embedded in me my passion for doing what I can with what I have to make a difference in the world. I remember returning from that semester and visiting my now husband while he was interning for Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives. I remember thinking while I stood in her office with no-one else around how I had so much access to creating positive change compared to my best friend from Cuba who literally had no voice.
Also, working with women survivors of sexual violence in Haiti for a number of years offered a window into some of the hardest life circumstances one can’t even imagine. It’s hard to turn back once you’ve seen those things.
I am passionate about helping my fellow human, and helping others have an impact on the work they do to create positive change in the world.
What project are you most proud of?
It's hard to say what project I am most proud of. I have a few.
We Have Rights
Without a doubt, one of them is a campaign called We Have Rights I started in 2017 with Brooklyn Defender Services to empower immigrants to know their rights in confrontations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It started when a group of immigrant defenders approached me with a problem: they didn’t have enough capacity to respond to the rise in immigrants seeking rights information following an escalation in ICE raids after Trump came into office.
With a partner, I surveyed what was online and found that there was no tool that would provide what they needed. We proposed using video to create a Know Your Rights animated campaign in seven languages called We Have Rights, informed by the immigrants we were serving and the lawyers’ knowledge of what to do in the top four situations in which ICE came into contact with immigrants.
The resulting series, which I co-wrote, co-produced, co-directed, and led distribution for, has been seen more than 23 million times and has helped millions of immigrants across the U.S. defend their rights.
Haitian Women and Girls: Creating Safe Spaces, Confronting National Recovery & Building a New Future of Equality
Another project I am particularly proud of is developing an information collection system and call center for Haitian women survivors of gender-based violence.
I started working with Haitian women shortly after the earthquake in 2010 with the idea that I could use what I learned about international human rights law related to women’s equality that I had learned at Global Justice Center in the context of Haiti.
I learned early on that Haitian women were excluded from decisions about how camps would be designed and how aid monies were spent. I got in touch with the largest grassroots women’s organization working with survivors of gender-based violence, who had lost everything in the earthquake and were themselves living in camps.
When they got their new office, we decided to build a digital intake system so that they could analyze things like the correlation between lighting in a given camp and rapes there. We then trained young survivors at the Center on how to use the database and were able to gather important information to share with aid organizations about how to allocate millions of dollars of funding for the camps. We also started a hotline that the Center used to pick up survivors and find medical, psychosocial, and legal services for them.
Ja Nou We L/The Way We See It
Finally, the last project that really stands out for me was a digital photography program with the same Haitian women.
The idea was to teach them digital photography so they could share their perspective on what was happening in Haiti with the world. We developed a series of 47 images the women took and titled, and created an exhibition and exhibition catalog, which were featured at a major launch event in New York City (which the leaders of the Haitian organization came to).
The event raised $25,000 for the women to continue their photography work. The exhibition was titled Ja Nou We L/The Way We See It.
You started private coaching with Antoinette in the summer of 2020. What inspired you to start working with Antoinette?
COVID hit my business hard, and I began really struggling with what I wanted to do with my business and more broadly, professionally. I was looking for guidance to help me figure out what I wanted to do and help me take the necessary steps to get there.
What does "stepping into your power" mean to you?
“Stepping into my power” to me means stepping into a place of confidence. Coming at the world from a place of strength and opportunity.
What are some ways you set healthy boundaries for yourself?
I exercise daily which really helps me stay balanced. It is my “Abby time,” and I love it. Also, having a five-year-old son keeps me in check.
What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself since coach?
I’ve learned to come to the world with a sense of strength and opportunity. To think about what I really want to do and do it, as opposed to thinking of the world as having a limited opportunity and feeling fearful about the future.
What would you say to someone who’s on the fence about coaching?
I would say that coaching is an amazing way to manage life transitions. I would also advise that you have to be prepared to put all of yourself into it and keep an open mind for it to really work.