“WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY, THEY DESERVE HALF THE RESOURCES”
A GLOBAL AWARD CELEBRATING FEMALE-LED SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS DRIVING CHANGE BY SUPPORTING TODAY’S TRAILBLAZERS AND TOMORROW’S POWER PLAYERS
The sisterhood of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.
MELISSA BIME IS FROM CAMEROON,
a volatile country bordering Nigeria in Central Africa. As a trainee nurse, Melissa watched helplessly as a five-year-old girl died of malaria-induced anaemia. The hospital had no compatible blood for a transfusion, and it was only discovered afterwards that the girl’s blood type was at a facility close by. Melissa set out to create Infiuss, a digital supply-chain platform that operates a database of blood types and a transportation service to deliver blood between hospitals. Melissa is 22. When she entered the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, our reason for meeting in Singapore last April, she was only 21. Completely unintentionally, Melissa will probably make you question what you’ve been doing with your life.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards does exactly what it says on the label – it celebrates women from a diverse set of backgrounds, recognises social entrepreneurship and rewards those who have the drive and vision to make a meaningful difference in the world. “To be able to have this much international recognition brings validation to the fact that it’s something a lot of people elsewhere take quite seriously,” says Bime. “I might be able to change the mindset in my country.”
The awards are open to female-run, for-profit businesses working to create a strong social impact. This year’s finalists were selected from a record 2,800 incredible women, spanning six sectors including health, environment, education, culture, electronics and technology. They’re working on projects ranging from boosting patient support to producing non-polluting solutions to people’s vital needs.
Since the Awards’ creation in 2006, 16,000 women from around the world have applied, 198 businesses from 49 countries have been supported and nearly 400 jury and coaches involved. All 18 finalists (up this year from 10) receive individual coaching, access to business workshops and expert advice in areas such as leadership and developing sustainable business models. Runners-up each received US$30,000 funding, while the six winning laureates (Bime included) were each awarded US$100,000.
“We realised when starting this initiative that institutions are more reluctant to lend money to women, just because they’re women – it’s totally unfair,” says Cyrille Vigneron, president and CEO of Cartier and the man responsible for upping this year’s total prize money to close to a whopping million dollars. “We not only offer them money, but the recognition they get also allows them to go to the bank and get much more, so they can scale their business in a much better way. Most of them start from zero, and they’re passionate about what they do, but they feel so lonely, so having a community to support them is really key.”
Bobbi Mahlab, founder and managing director of Mahlab and co-founder of Mentor Walks Australia was one of five Asia-pacific jury members, joining a wider panel of 30 judges. “Endless studies show that if you invest in women, the impact for families and children is higher than if you invest in men,” she says. “This is not an anti-men statement at all; it’s just about where most of the impact lies. Right now women hold up half the sky, they deserve half the resources, but at the moment that is not how the world works. My philosophy: good people help good people and good men and women support good women; it’s really as simple as that. Because women tend to get overlooked.” >
“IF YOU INVEST IN WOMEN, THE IMPACT FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN IS HIGHER”
A business owner for two decades, Mahlab cites the confidence deficit as one of the issues holding back women in business. “Men seem to have more inner confidence than women and it’s for no good reason. Our job is to help them gain that confidence and to raise men who believe in women as well.”
“Usually men are prepared to do things they don’t think they’re capable of [whereas] women want to feel ultra-capable before they do [something],” agrees Vigneron. “They need a lot of conviction to say, ‘I can do it, I will make it.’ Many women feel guilty for not being able to do everything perfectly right. When men say, ‘My business is so hard, I don’t have time to see my children,’ we say, ‘You poor thing’. If a woman says that we say, ‘You’re a bad mother, how dare you.’” Vigneron, who helms the dominantly feminine French luxury house founded in
1847, is proud to declare that the Awards formula works. “Within the past
10 years, 80 per cent of the businesses supported still have connectivity, an incredible number considering the usual start-up success rate is 10 per cent. And with the visibility of this prize, the financial institutions are more ready [to back them], because there’s a track record of these businesses being sustainable and sound, they can be supported with confidence.”
“It’s not an initiative which says we need to change the way we look at women, but how women look at the world, and what they do with what they have,” he says. “It’s not our thing, we’re just here to nurture it, like a gardener leaving the plants to grow.” The ingredients, he says, in terms of the visionary women and their life-changing ideas, are all in place. “They are already in business so the proof of the concept is there; to have visibility, recognition, money and mental support makes a difference – it is something good. Something great.” E
“MEN SEEM TO HAVE MORE INNER CONFIDENCE THAN WOMEN DO AND IT’S FOR NO GOOD REASON”
MEETING OF MINDS: Finalists and prize winners including Melissa Bime (above) and Yiding Yu (far right) at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
PASSION PROJECT: Cyrille Vigneron, Cartier’s president and CEO, is committed to supporting female business talent