Cartier has a long history of adorning women in stunning jewels, but beyond the physical, the French maison also has a vested interest in nourishing women in other ways. The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards encourages and celebrates female entrepreneurs around the world, acknowledging them for their sharp business acumen and exceptional contributions to society.
Now in its 12th year, the 2018 Awards will take place on April 26 in Singapore, where 18 finalists from around the world come together in the spirit of mutual empowerment.
We sit down with the three finalists from the Asia Pacific region ahead of the awards ceremony on April 26 to talk about how their businesses are making positive changes in society, and to discuss their hopes for the future of other female entrepreneurs like them.
Sara Saeed, Sehat Kahani
Over half of Pakistan’s medical students every year are female, yet the percentage of registered female doctors in the country stands at a staggering 23 percent. Much of this attrition can be traced back to the ‘doctor-bride’ phenomenon, where cultural constraints often see married female doctors forced to give up their careers to care for their families instead. At the same time, accessible healthcare remains a challenge in Pakistan, where many still live in rural areas far from clinics.
Spurred on by these statistics, Sara Saeed co-founded Sehat Kahani to address both these concerns: By creating an online platform that connects stay-at-home female doctors with underserved patients in rural areas, Saeed helps these women reintegrate back into the workforce while enabling the underprivileged easy access to affordable healthcare.
Beyond being a mere business venture, Sehat Kahani — which means ‘Story of Health’ in Urdu — has a much deeper, personal meaning to Saeed. Following her wedding and the birth of her daughter, Saeed herself was expected to become a ‘doctor-bride’.
“Sehat Kahani is not only my passion, but also my personal struggle to identify my true calling, and to build it against many challenges,” says Saeed. One of these challenges was Pakistan’s ingrained cultural perception of women.
“When a woman chooses to build her career or lead her passion in life spending quality hours in her day to make it work, it’s not an easy phenomenon for people around to understand,” shares Saeed. “A life journey for a woman in Pakistan is mapped out even before she comes into the world.”
“The only difference in my life journey was the support of my parents, who, despite being from the same traditional mindset, wanted their daughter to achieve all her dreams.”
With Sehat Kahani, patients can receive a video consultation with one of its 800 doctors for as little as US$0.50. The platform has since assisted over 50,000 patients — a figure that Saeed plans to boost in the years to come.
She says, “Young girls in Pakistan have many dreams, and they need success stories of women around them to give them the courage to take the leap!”
Kristin Kagetsu, Saathi
When Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Kristin Kagestu moved to India, she originally planned on developing machines that would produce sanitary pads — but upon arriving in the country and seeing its environmental and social challenges first-hand, Kagestu quickly changed tact.
“We wanted to make an impact on women, but realised there was an even greater opportunity to combine the solution to two problems at once,” says Kagetsu. By creating sanitary pads made from banana fibre, a natural by-product of farming, Kagetsu successfully created an affordable and hygienic alternative to traditional sanitary pads for the women in India’s most rural suburbs.
Today, three years after Saathi’s inception in 2015, Saathi has provided thousands of women in rural India with access to its feminine hygiene products, and also employs underprivileged women in the manufacturing of its products.
Beyond just providing sanitary pads for women, Kagetsu also hopes to reach out to the women in India on a more personal level by hosting workshops to combat the stigma around menstruation, as well as to educate them about hygienic practices. For Kagetsu, Saathi isn’t just a provider of products — she wants her start-up to make a positive, indelible impact on the communities in which she operates in.
“Not only is it good for encouraging more female entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, but it also means that they are making a bigger impact on the world,” says Kagetsu.
Swati Pandey, Arboreal Innovations
Though Arboreal Innovation first came to fruition when Swati Pandey received funding from a professor at Imperial College London, the seeds for Arboreal were planted long before its inception.
Arboreal’s central focus is producing Stevia, a 100 percent natural, plant-based zero calorie sweetener that serves as a viable replacement for sugar. India has one of the highest number of diabetics in the world, an alarming statistic that moved Pandey. But beyond facts and figures, she also has a more personal interest in the matter: Pandey’s own mother is a diabetic, and she is all-too aware of how limiting life with diabetes can be.
Not only does Stevia serve as a healthier substitute for sugar, the production of the crop also utilises much less water and land than sugarcane for the same amount of sweetness, allowing farmers to save acres of agricultural land and water in the process. The production of Stevia has also provided rural farmers in India with an alternative cash crop that helps them to increase their income without overburdening their lands.
Though Pandey is ecstatic about her CWIA finalist status, calling it one of the “defining moments” for Arboreal, she has slightly different hopes for the generation of female entrepreneurs that will succeed her.
“In the popular narrative today, the default mental image of an entrepreneur is a man. Shouldn’t half the population of the world have a proportional representation in positions of power?” says Pandey.
“My hope for the future is that female entrepreneurs become so mainstream that we do not need special programs focusing on female entrepreneurship.”
The 2018 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards will take place on April 26 at the Capella, Singapore.