Creating impact in 2023: women entrepreneurs seize new opportunities
The 2023 Cartier Women's Initiative (CWI) gathered 32 female entrepreneurs from five continents last May in Paris, among many celebrities, including Amal Clooney and Mélanie Laurent, and many businesswomen in the CWI community. According to the fellows, driving systemic change is crucial for creating impact.
By Cristina D’Agostino06 juin 2023
While talent and knowledge are universal, opportunities to develop are not. Yet this reality finds new perspectives for everyone when female entrepreneurs dare to believe in their business model and the social and economic impact it encompasses. "When women contribute further, the economy is improved. When women succeed, society improves, according to Christine Lagarde, chairwoman of the European Central Bank, one of the 100 women mentioned in the book "Vital Voices" by Alyse Nelson, edited by Assouline. Therefore, results are immediate when this observation finds an echo that can amplify the message.
This program goes way beyond supporting female entrepreneurship. Women actively contribute to a better world.
Nathalie Lesselin, Swiss fellow of the 2023 edition and founder of the start-up Kokoro Lingua
On this point, the power of communities to multiply each woman's potential is real but often remains unknown or underestimated. This is the reason why the theme "Forces for Good" was chosen for the 2023 Cartier Women's Initiative edition. Indeed, companies selected for the prize-giving ceremony represented an essential force for good, but they also embodied a broader collective effort. This sentiment was echoed by all the fellows from five continents during their presentations on stage at the Pleyel Room on May 10th.
Nathalie Lesselin, one of the three fellows for Europe and founder of Swiss start-up Kokoro Lingua, explains: "During the selection process with the mentors the program provides, I was struck by these people's commitment and serious approach. Beyond all of this, the entire Cartier Women's Initiative community makes itself available. About 700 people have been part of it since the beginning of the initiative 16 years ago, and it's a true added value when one wants to find tangible answers to daily entrepreneur challenges. This program goes way beyond supporting female entrepreneurship. Women actively contribute to a better world. Each business fulfills many UN sustainability objectives. In terms of value, it's huge." In the case of the Kokoro Lingua company - a platform that offers an intuitive learning method for English through weekly videos, with fun activities animated by native anglophone children – reducing inequalities and helping education appear among the 17 objectives of sustainability led by the UN by 2030. All the fellows have implemented a commitment, be it through issues related to poverty, inequality, climate, environment, prosperity, peace, and justice.
The need to reduce inequality
The 2023 edition presented 32 fellows, whose specificity was to include a few men for the first time in the scope of the new "diversity, equality, and inclusion" prize. An initiative particularly welcomed by the audience present during the official ceremony. For the director of the program Wingee Sampaio, it was necessary to move forward on this topic: "It seemed obvious that there was a need to create such a category and that it should be open to all, men and women, who try to solve the same challenge of diversity and inclusion. Originally, this prize was inspired by North America, on the forefront with its many companies focused on these issues. We have learned a lot by talking with some fellows from the 2023 edition, such as Blake Van Putten, based in the USA, who works on helping the black community through his fashion brand CISE or Chengchuan Shi, a Chinese entrepreneur founder of the service platform Voibook, based on AI, which improves communication for deaf and hard of hearing people. The 2024 edition will again include this section."
Of the 32 finalist startups, almost half had the clear aim to reduce inequalities. Some, such as the Humans in the Loop company, founded by the Bulgarian entrepreneur Iva Gumnishka, succeeded in gaining the public's support and of celebrities present. As her company offers work to refugees and people affected by conflicts, she echoes the urgent needs on the field. It is also the case of some startups further focused on ecological solutions, such as the American company Hexas Biomass Inc. founded by Wendy Owens, which produces plant-based sustainable materials that are not costly to replace wood and raw materials based on fossil fuels or the Nigerian company Platinum Fisheries founded by Dupe Killa-Kafidipe, focused on sea-based products, and which uses ethical and sustainable production practices.
What does impact mean in 2023?
Since 2006, the Cartier Women's Initiative has supported 297 women entrepreneurs with impact from 63 countries worldwide
Wingee Sampaio, Global Director, Cartier Women's Initiative (Cartier)
While all startups have the potential to grow and raise funds, they are not all at the same financial level. Therefore, in 2023, the Cartier Women's Initiative increased its donations and even widened its actions. Wingee Sampaio explains: "Today, our program has three levels of endowment: 100'000 euros for the first prize, 60'000 euros for the second, and 30'000 for the third, for each of the 11 categories, including nine regional prizes, with Oceania and francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, launched this year. Since 2006, the Cartier Women's Initiative has supported 297 women entrepreneurs with impact from 63 countries worldwide for a total amount of 7'440'000 dollars. We have also launched, in 2022, a loan fund created for former candidates who have asked for a loan. The fund has about 1 million euros. The other important area we wanted to develop is connecting investors to our women entrepreneur community. In this scope, we help profile the companies of those who choose the risk-capital route to have them succeed in fundraising."
Helping women who have been abused, giving them means to master law to defend themselves against injustice better
Amal Clooney, co-founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice and renowned international human rights lawyer
While financing is crucial in leading a business, having an impact is vital. But how can one measure it in 2023? For Wingee Sampaio, the answer lies "in the feeling that you belong, to be part of a whole, to which the entrepreneur wants to contribute". This is crucial, as this impulse will determine all other measures taken by the company. Without it, it cannot survive, and it will not be able to motivate other people to join and create change." For others, like the Canadian fellow Ania Wysocka founder of the Rootd app – an interactive on-demand tool to manage anxiety and panic attacks - it is about offering an accessible and affordable solution for the greater number." For Mariam Torosyan based in Armenia and Today at the head of Safe YOU - a mobile app which helps women that have suffered from violence to find immediate help - she is convinced that "the best way to create impact is to change the status quo. For Safe YOU, the idea is to transform power dynamics. Having impact means less suffering, more love, and peace in this world."
Many commitments have already shown their resilience, even during crises. This common trait gives rise to another significant one: all fellows share the ambition to change the system. Amal Clooney, onstage, cofounder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice and lawyer specializing in international law, said the same thing: "Helping women who have been abused, giving them means to master law to defend themselves against injustice better and create opportunities to work by promoting gender equality, among other things, are challenges that have inspired the creation of the Clooney foundation and other initiatives."
The question of impact raises many personal responses. Nathalie Lesselin concludes: "I have a very personal definition of impact. In our case, with the Kokoro platform, offering children a fun way to learn a language gives them access to another way of life, an enriched education. And this will automatically impact their environment. Impacting as many children as possible carries the hope that they will change the world for the better."
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