The Cartier Women’s Initiative, currently in its 15th year, not only celebrates women who drive change and empowerment through their businesses, but also provides fellowship and a nurturing environment for growth. Mavis Teo reports.
“When women thrive, humanity thrives.” These are the much-quoted words of Cartier International’s president and CEO Cyrille Vigneron, who regularly speaks passionately about the Cartier Women’s Initiative (CWI), an international entrepreneurship programme founded by the luxury brand.
CWI began in 2006 as a one-time programme with partners like the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, McKinsey & Company and Insead Business School. The event recognised the leaders of women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector who aimed to drive a strong and sustainable social and environmental change – which are some of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Fast forward to 2022, and CWI has just celebrated its 15th anniversary with the first laureates honoured in 2007. Despite the pandemic, Cartier didn’t cancel what has evolved to become a permanent annual programme to support and uplift female impact entrepreneurs. Instead, the French maison moved the ceremony online. Since its inception, 262 women changemakers from 62 countries have been recognised by the initiative. Altogether, they received over US$6.4 million in grants.
In addition to the awards programme, which recognises 24 talented global women impact entrepreneurs who are fielding businesses with a mission to improve humankind, there is also a fellowship component that provides tailored human capital support to the finalists in each category. They include Preserving the Planet, Improving Lives and Creating Opportunities.
In essence, the CWI is also a support network that gives participants lifelong access to other like-minded peers, creating more opportunities for them to improve and grow. In other words, it provides a nurturing community and much-appreciated fellowship.
This successful endeavour was celebrated over three days this year starting from March 6 in Dubai. The event is titled Cartier Women’s Initiative World Reunion to celebrate the initiative’s 15 years of achievements. The reunion paid tribute to past awardees and commemorated milestones reached thus far, as no new applications were accepted for 2022. And it opened with the appropriate fanfare for what is one of the maison’s flagship CSR events – an orchestra at the Dubai Opera House played a medley of masterpieces led by Italian-Brazilian conductor Simone Menezes.
In Dubai, the spotlight was trained on nine former CWI fellows who have continued to make far-reaching impact on the communities they serve, even long after receiving the accolades. These amazing ladies were honoured with Impact Awards in various categories. During the ceremony, Vigneron said, “During all these years, this initiative has brought together a community of passionate social entrepreneurs, who have developed successful business models improving lives around them. This community is a constant source of awe and inspiration.”
On March 8, to cap the third day of the reunion, which also falls on International Women’s Day, Cartier reaffirmed its commitment towards supporting women impact entrepreneurship with another event – the inaugural Speaker Series – at National Gallery Singapore, where over 70 entrepreneurs, partners and ecosystem enablers attended in person.
Opening the event was CEO of Cartier Southeast Asia and Oceania Cécile Naour. The speaker series would soon travel to other countries in the region including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in both physical and virtual formats, featuring inspiring speakers who champion women empowerment and business for a greater good.
The lively hybrid panel discussion featured regional business leaders across diverse industries and countries. They included sustainable luxury fashion entrepreneur Nikasha Khemka; robotics engineer and inventor of Asia’s first robotic glove Jane Wang; sustainable jeweller, venture capitalist and fintech marketer Proud Limpognan; Edutech entrepreneur-turned- venture-capitalist Tu Ngo; and e-commerce pioneer, serial entrepreneur and angel investor Shinta Dhanuwardoyo.
Limpongpan, Ngo and Dhanuwardoyo are also members of the Asia Gender Network, the first pan-Asian network that aims to mobilise capital to close the gender gap in Asia through funding the advancement of women and girls.
Broadcasting live from the festivities in Dubai were Wingee Sampaio, CWI’s global programme director, and Carmina Bayombong, who is the 2019 laureate for the Southeast & Oceania regional award and the 2021 first runner-up for the Impact Award in Creating Opportunities. The sharing session by Bayombong, who hails from the Philippines, was especially insightful and fascinating for the audience.
Having witnessed how her parents had broken out from the poverty cycle with a university education, Bayombong had the vision of empowering disadvantaged youth through levelling the educational playing field. In 2016, she co-founded InvestEd, a FinTech that provides education loans through a proprietary risk engine that minimises risk for both lenders and borrowers.
Since its launch, InvestEd has raised millions in funding and provided education loans to hundreds of students across 400 schools in the Philippines. InvestEd also provides training and assistance with employment and financial literacy to ensure borrowers get a job to repay their loans. This comprehensive approach has greatly reduced the time InvestEd beneficiaries take to find a job after graduation.
Bayombong personally attested to the incredible endorsement the CWI has given to her and her company, ultimately enabling her to secure more interest and funding. What is clear from the panel discussion is that an international platform such as this initiative is indeed powerful and goes a long way in boosting the awareness and validation of women-led businesses.
Although empowerment of women and their businesses has come far, the speakers agreed that women impact entrepreneurs still face bias and challenges. More visibility, recognition and a stronger support network are needed – especially when one considers the fact that the fear of rejection and failure is often the biggest obstacle to women entrepreneurs.
To overcome that, Bayombong dispensed this advice: “Channel the pain that you experience in your daily life or an event that is preventing you from pursuing your dreams into creating an impact in other people’s lives.”
For 2023 (the nominations are closing end-June), Cartier is expanding CWI with the creation of new Regional and Thematic Awards. The 2023 Regional Awards will extend to a total of nine territories to include Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania. The 27 awardees representing all regions will be announced in April 2023. The pilot Thematic Award – named Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – is open to all regardless of gender. It aims to encourage entrepreneurial solutions designed to close gaps of access, outcome or opportunities for communities that have been underserved or under-represented.
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