Cartier recently announced the eight laureates of this year’s edition of the jewellery house’s Women’s Initiative. The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual international entrepreneurial programme for women that aims to highlight and support projects that are driving important aspects of sustainable, social or environmental change.
This year’s edition is a little bit different. Before, there were seven existing Regional Awards – one for Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, East Asia, and South Asia and Oceania.
The 2021 edition sees the debut of the Science & Technology Pioneer Award, a new category that aims specifically to support female entrepreneurs who are working at the forefronts of scientific and technological innovation.
The theme of this year’s Women’s Initiative is the “Ripple Effect”. Namely, the ways women changemakers’ projects and works have an influence and impact on generating positive change in the world. It sounds lofty, and the international jury had to whittle down to just eight laureates from among 876 applicants from over 142 countries.
Each category – seven regional, and one in science and technology – sees a laureate, as well as second and third runner-ups. The former receive US$100,000 in prize money each, and the latter US$30,000 each – all of them benefitting from tailored training, workshops, media and networking opportunities, as well as the opportunity to join an INSEAD (one of the world’s largest and leading graduate business schools) impact entrepreneurship programme.
Ahead, get to know the laureates of 2021 and the incredible work they’re doing.
Valentina Rogacheva, Mexico, Verqor
When Valentina Rogacheva moved from Russia to Latin America, she realized that the majority of Mexico’s 5.5 million farmers are modest operations working on cash and subsistence crops. More than 90 per cent of them are unable to access credit or financial services. Verqor, the platform Rogacheva co-founded and is a COO of, aims to provide cashless credit to Mexican farmers excluded from the system. That’s going to help these farmers secure the credit they need to access supplies and resources that can expand on their economic opportunities.
Rebecca Hui, USA, Roots Studio
Roots Studio, the co-founder and CEO of Roots Studio, is all about helping rural communities digitize their cultural heritage into intellectual property for licensing. The idea is that in a 32-billion-dollar annual market of cultural design licensing, an estimated US$12 million in intellectual property opportunities are lost per community every year. Roots Studio thus works with cultures, communities and heritage artists to reverse cultural loss and appropriation, and to afford these creations their rightful IP protection.
Andrea Barber, Spain, RatedPower
At RatedPower, where Andrea Barber is CEO and co-founder, the mission is to digitize and make the renewable energy industry more efficient through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product. Barber first noticed the inefficiencies of the industry’s design process when she worked in engineering consulting for a renewable energy company. RatedPower, then, uses software to automate and optimize this process of creating sustainable solar power plants – speeding up a process that once took several weeks to a few mere minutes.
Seynabou Dieng, Mali, Maya
When Seynabou Dieng returned to Mali after spending 10 years in France, she realized that most of the food in the country was imported. This, in a country where 75 per cent of the population depend on agriculture, and where agriculture only accounts for 38 per cent of the country’s GDP, was shocking. She then co-founded and became CEO of Maya, a food-processing company that specializes in grocery store products through partnering with farmers in Mali. Maya products exclusively with local agricultural products inspired by local family recipes – strengthening the food industry and creating a vibrant new local supply chain.
Basima Abdulrahman, Iraq, Kesk
In Iran, temperatures in the summer can reach 48 degrees Celsius or more. The country’s unstable power grid is also inadequate to meet the high energy demand, leaving Iraqi citizens with few options to cool their homes with the limited amount of electricity they receive each day. Kesk, founded by Basima Abdulrahman, offers green building services and products that are changing the way architecture and communities are planned, constructed, maintained and operated. That means energy-efficient construction, and recently, development of air conditioning units that use external solar panels – sans batteries – that makes cooling homes cheaper and simpler for Iraqi households.
Corina Huang, Taiwan, China, Boncha Boncha
Boncha Boncha, founded by Corina Huang, leverages on personal experience. Huang first observed the implications of pill-related dysphagia – swallowing difficulties – when her grandmother suffered a stroke more than a decade ago. The pills she needed kept getting stuck in her throat. Boncha Boncha, which offers high-absorption candy pills that are easy to swallow, aims to solve this problem. Half the world’s population – and three hundred million people older than 65 – actually face this issue. Huang, who has also had a confectionary venture, combined her insights and candy-making business experience to create dysphagia-friendly candy pills that are rich in nutrients for those who need it.
Rebecca Percasky, New Zealand, The Better Packaging Co.
When Rebecca Percasky worked at an e-commerce technology startup, she came to see herself as part of a global packaging waste problem in a world where 87 billion packages are shipped worldwide annually. The wasteful single-use nature of packaging led Percasky to co-found The Better Packaging Co., which is tackling the global waste crisis through sustainable packaging design, product stewardship and educating about waste. That means replacements for traditional plastic like home-compostable courier bags, bubble bags and snap-lock bags, all in stylish designs that have been taken up by sellers as small as Etsy brands to behemoths like L’Oreal and Maybelline.
Orianna Bretschger, USA, Aquacycl
Although a third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a toilet, wastewater seems an under-discussed issue. That’s where Aquacycl, which offers energy-neutral methods of treating wastewater, comes in. In developing countries, this is a problem that disproportionately affects women, who have to spend time fetching water for household use. That’s time that could be better spent in education or more meaningful ways.
For Bretschger, though, the answer is not merely importing solutions from developed countries. Aquacycl thus creates cost-effective treatment systems that can operate on different scales: single-family homes, to small communities or even manufacturing plants. Using patented technology, waste can be broken down into fundamental components that can be regenerated into electricity and new, clean water.