“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

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

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

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