Cover The eight laureates from Cartier's Women's Initiative 2021. Photos: Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier reveals their eight new laureates, who were chosen out of 876 applicants from over 142 countries. Here's everything you need to know about them

The names of the eight new laureates of the Cartier Women’s Initiative were announced this week, in a digital ceremony that was held at the end of a virtual, three-day gathering, by Cartier, to discuss the challenges of our time.

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The 2021 version of the Cartier Women’s Initiative program aims to look at how to create and sustain the efforts made by female changemakers in order to create a ripple effect that will be felt by future generations.

The three-day virtual gathering was hosted by Cartier's president and CEO, Cyrille Vigneron, and saw the company bringing together global thinkers such as Jacqueline Novogratz, an entrepreneur and author, Maria Shriver, the founder of Shriver Media and The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, actor Yara Shahidi and more.

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The eight laureates were chosen by an international jury that looked through 876 applicants from over 142 countries. All awardees share a desire to create positive change in the world by reducing inequalities, pushing for responsible consumption, encouraging climate action and advocating good health. 

“For the past fifteen years, the Cartier Women’s Initiative has celebrated women impact entrepreneurs. It has long been our belief that to thrive, they need an enabling environment, a supportive ecosystem and an empowering culture. During the virtual gathering, like-minded individuals and organizations from all horizons have joined us to explore how we can collectively uplift these outstanding change-makers. We look to the future with confidence by their side, as we witness them building up a tide of change, thus making the world a better place for generations to come,” said Vigneron.

The eight awardees will each take home US$100,000 in prize money while the second and third runner-ups will receive US$30,000 each.

They will also get a chance to participate in specially organised collective workshops, training and international networking. 

Keep reading to find out more about these eight incredible women and how they have succeeded in changing the world.

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1. Valentina Rogacheva, Mexico

Valentina Rogacheva, who is from Russia, has a masters degree in social management and wanted to use her financing expertise to help people with little to no opportunities.

She found that in Mexico, about 90 per cent of their over five million farmers are considered smallholders and therefore cannot access credit or financial services. This means that they struggle to improve their farming operations or to use new technology to increase yields which could help them break the cycle of poverty.

Seeing the problem, Rogacheva created the Verqor platform which aims at connecting farmers, their customers, financial institutions, and producers of agricultural supplies to give them access to affordable credit. 

Once their credit is granted approval, they can purchase all the supplies they might need through the Verqor platform. The best part is that Verqor has managed to lower costs for farmers because they provide farming supplies to them directly.

Verqor is currently looking to partner with bigger companies such as Walmart and Nestle to purchase fruits, coffee beans and more to reach farmers of their supply chains and to improve their quality of life.

2. Rebecca Hui, United States

Rebecca Hui has always been drawn to art and decided to pursue architecture and business while she was in school. When she graduated, she got the chance to travel to India where she saw artwork of all mediums in the rural communities. 

However, she was disturbed to find that many talented artists had to leave their homes and travel far for jobs that only paid them a pittance. 

She ended up asking herself, “how do we show the artists that their voice and inheritance matters, and that there is a world starving for authenticity and meaning, willing to pay to make it work?”

To answer her question, she decided to start Roots Studio, a place that aimed at bridging cultures and reversing cultural loss and appropriation.

Roots Studio holds regular workshops with heritage artists, digitalises their work and takes steps to get Internet protocol (IP) protection to maintain the integrity of cultural motifs. 

To this day, Roots Studio has worked with over 22,000 artists and they are still going strong in their efforts to protect and give opportunities to artists.

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3. Andrea Barber, Spain

In 2019, the United Nations announced that we may only have about a decade to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. One of the ways we can significantly reduce our impact on Earth is to use renewable energy. Unfortunately, designing and building these large renewable energy plants can take a long time. 

Seeing this, Andrea Barber and her colleagues decided to start Ratedpower to develop Pvdesign, a cloud-based software that can automate and optimize all stages of solar energy plant creation. 

“We are lovers of nature. We are really linked to the natural world, and we were very worried that we're not helping enough. How can we use our knowledge and our technology to try to solve this problem? That was the motivation,” she said.

Using Pvdesign, customers can upload their project's location to the software and select their main equipment and criteria. They will then be able to access all the engineering documentation that they require for the project. This cuts down weeks of work and helps stakeholders to move quickly to save the Earth.

The company is now working on larger projects and is looking to bring their creation to areas with little electricity. 

4. Seynabou Dieng, Mali

In Mali, over 75 per cent of their 20 million people depend on agriculture to survive. However, despite this, agriculture generates only 38 per cent of the country’s total GDP.

In fact, though Mali imports most of its food products, there is often little choice and the products don't meet people's expectations in terms of value and taste. This broken local supply chain is what largely contributes to poverty and youth unemployment. 

When Seynabou Dieng returned to Mali after a ten-year stint in France, she was shocked to find out that much of what she eats is imported. She was also surprised to see that many market vendors had to throw away unsold produce because they had no way to preserve this food.

Dieng decided to do something about it and with the help of her cook, the two bought vegetables, herbs, and spices from the market and then came home and figured out how to preserve and store them together.

“We used to cut it, mix it, put it in small bags, and put it in the fridge,” she said before adding that it was only something they did for fun.

However, she was also documenting her process on Facebook where some of her work quickly began to catch the attention of other users who wanted to buy what they had made.

This was how her business, Maya, was created. Now, Dieng and her business produce a variety of manufactured foods that are made with local agricultural products and that are inspired by family recipes.

“We shifted from buying in the markets to buying directly from eleven partner farmer associations,” she said.

Her company has since processed 78 tons of vegetables and cereals and has significantly helped farmers to buy more seed and support their families. 

“This is how Africa can be lifted out of poverty. And I feel good that when my son goes to school, he can have food manufactured in Africa,” she said candidly. 

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5. Basima Abdulrahman, Iraq

In the summer, temperatures in Iraq can reach up to a whopping 48 degrees celsius. Unfortunately, the country's unstable power grid is not enough to feed their demand for energy and there are insufficient resources to build energy-efficient power supplies that could reduce the country's reliance on the electric grid. 

This has led to many protests around Iraq as well as an influx of people who have to search for alternative sources of energy. 

Seeing this need, Basima Abdulrahman, who was studying in the United States at that time, learned about green building design and the green building rating system which is also known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

She then decided to start her company, Kesk, in 2018. Kesek is an engineering and design consultancy that brought LEED to Iraq and began addressing the vulnerabilities of the current energy system.

Her company has since begun testing standalone solar air conditioning units and working on ways to reduce Iraq's reliance on the energy grid while also saving energy. The company aims to sell between 3,000 and 5,000 units in the next five years. 

6. Corina Huang, Taiwan

Did you know that about half the world's population experiences difficulty swallowing pills? This is a condition known as pill-related dysphagia and it currently affects three hundred million people above the age of 65. This is a problem because these people tend to skip medication and necessary nutrients simply because they cannot swallow a pill.

Corina Huang saw this problem in person when her grandmother suffered a stroke and could not swallow the pills she needed to maintain her health.

"For my granny, I had to open the capsules or break the tablet into two pieces, which affected efficacy and slowed her recovery," she said.

Knowing that something needed to be done, Huang decided to start Boncha Boncha to solve the problem. Using her experience starting a confectionery company in the past, Huang created pill forms that were much easier to swallow and that allowed for better nutrient absorption.

Basically, she turned supplements into dysphagia-friendly candy pills and has been helping people get the nutrients they need from their supplements ever since. In fact, they have distributed about five million candy pills since they started. 

"What drives me is my daughter. One day when she was three, she asked me if eventually, I would go to sleep forever. If so, could I wait for her?" Corina said. "I don't want anyone to leave their families before they have to. I don't want anyone to live in discomfort or sub-optimal health because they have difficulties swallowing pills. Now I am grateful that I can not only help other people stay healthy, but I can also help myself stay healthy so I can remain by my daughter's side into my old age".

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7. Rebecca Percasky, New Zealand

It probably comes as no surprise that every year, 87 billion packages are shipped worldwide. After all, online shopping has really taken over the world in recent years. However, with these packages come a whole bunch of waste that is often hard to recycle and that tends to end up in landfills. 

While working for an e-commerce technology startup, Rebecca Percasky felt this burden and hated that she was part of the problem.

“I saw how quickly e-commerce was growing,” she said. “Along with that growth, there's an extraordinary amount of packaging waste. Eventually, I said, ‘I can't be involved in that. I don't want to be responsible for putting any more plastic into the world."

After spending some time thinking about what she could do, Percasky decided to start The Better Packaging Co. which aimed at replacing single-use plastic with alternatives that could be reused. 

The Better Packaging Co. began to offer replacements for traditional plastic. This included home-compostable courier bags, bubble bags, and snap-lock bags. The company also did all this in style. In fact, all their products come in stylish matte black with white wiring instead of the usual drab colours. 

They now service everyone from small Etsy shop owners to big companies such as L’Oréal and Maybelline and they are changing the game one package at a time. 

8. Orianna Bretschger, United States

The world has certainly made a great deal of progress over the years but did you know that a third of the world's population still does not have access to a toilet? Additionally, 80 per cent of all industrial and residential wastewater is barely treated before it is discharged into water bodies. This often has a terrible impact on the environment and human health.

Seeing this problem, Orianna Bretschger started researching a way to electronically control how bacteria breathe and eat. In 2016, Orianna founded Aquacycl to offer a cost-effective on-site wastewater treatment system that could operate everywhere from single-family homes to small communities to manufacturing plants.

“We break the waste down into the fundamental components of carbon dioxide, which is dissolved in the water, and electrons and protons, which we use to generate electricity and new molecular water,” she said. 

Aquacycl has since helped food and beverage manufacturers to avoid discharging concentrated waste streams and to reduce their wastewater costs. They plan to continue doing this and hope to bring their technology to over 100 million individuals over the next five years.

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