In the 15th edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative, seven incredible women will receive a boost to their social enterprises and businesses, and be enabled to take their start-ups to the next level. Options speaks to three of the seven laureates who are changing lives, one step at a time. 

As the world grapples with the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, it has become more crucial than ever to turn towards impact investing as a concerted effort to improve lives, make a change and empower the underserved. Now more than ever, the need to support social enterprises and impact entrepreneurs is critical.

As such, luxury conglomerate Cartier has recently announced its 2020 Cartier Women’s Initiative laureates. From over 1,200 applicants across the globe, seven women have been selected for making a positive change in the world by promoting good health and well-being, reducing inequalities, building sustainable cities and communities and encouraging responsible consumption and production.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative, which is in its 15th year, is an annual international entrepreneurship programme that aims to drive change by empowering women entrepreneurs. Since 2006, the programme has been open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that aim to have a strong and sustainable social or environmental impact.

Each of the seven laureates will be awarded a US$100,000 ($137,186) grant, while each of the second and third runner-ups will receive US$30,000.

Not only that, the seven laureates and 14 finalists will all receive support on strategic financial thinking, one-onone strategy mentoring, media visibility and international networking opportunities, as well as the opportunity to join an INSEAD executive education programme on scaling social impact.

“As an international luxury Maison, we are global citizens, aware of and listening to the wider world. More than ever, we remain committed to use our voice and actively support those who are trying to make the world a better place, which is the case of these outstanding women entrepreneurs,” says Cyrille Vigneron, president and CEO of Cartier International. “It has been incredibly inspiring to witness their determination, resilience and creativity. We are immensely proud of their work, and thankful for their global contribution to our society,” he adds. 

Temie Giwa – Tubosun Founder and CEO, LifeBank

Tell us about your background and about LifeBank.

I studied International Public Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and have over 10 years of health management experience with the Department For International Development (DFID) program, World Health Organization, UN Development Programme, and the Lagos State Government.

In 2014, I was listed by the BBC as one of the 100 Women changing the world and was also recognised as an African Innovator by Quartz and the World Economic Forum. I started LifeBank in January 2016.

LifeBank is a medical distribution company that uses data, technology and smart logistics to improve the discoverability, delivery, affordability and safety of essential medical products such as blood and oxygen to hospitals in Nigeria and Kenya.

Since we launched, we have moved over 23,000 units of critical medical products to more than 550 hospitals and saved over 8,000 lives.

What was your inspiration behind LifeBank?

I was inspired to solve this problem after several personal encounters with maternal deaths. These encounters occurred in a Northern Nigerian village where I encountered a woman who had been in labour for two days because there was no blood readily available to replenish what she had lost.

Years later, I had similar childbirth complications but was lucky to be in a hospital equipped to handle it. Due to these encounters with postpartum haemorrhage, which accounts for 60% of maternal deaths in Africa, and frustrated by Nigeria’s high maternal mortality rate of 814 deaths per 100,000 live births, I decided to tackle the problem.

The inadequate supply of blood is also responsible for the estimated annual deaths of 50,000 sickle cell patients, 40,000 cancer patients and 17,000 accident victims in Nigeria alone. The limited availability of blood is also linked to the high child mortality rate of the most vulnerable children.

we launched, we became more aware of other factors that hinder access to quality healthcare, like availability of medical oxygen and financial constraints. We are constantly innovating around the supply chain to provide technological solutions to these pressing issues. One of such innovative services is AirBank, an emergency on-demand delivery of medical oxygen, and BOAT (Blood and Oxygen Access Trust), a trust fund setup to provide blood and oxygen to low-income patients at no cost. We are achieving tremendous impact in the lives of every patient by ensuring good health and well-being.

What were the highs and lows?

Seeing that LifeBank helped save someone’s life is what gives me a thrill — being aware that through our incredible work at LifeBank, maternal mortality is being reduced and more people are getting access to critical supplies they need for their healthcare on time and in the right condition. The lows come from knowing that there are still a lot of people, especially in Africa, who don’t have access to critical supplies like oxygen, blood or life-saving medication to stay alive.

How did you overcome the challenges you faced?

Some of the challenges we’ve faced building this business is witnessing how the lack of investment in healthcare translates to under-resourced health workers and crumbling health systems.

While companies like ours are building technological tools that can help leapfrog some infrastructural needs by creating soft infrastructure, we still need governments to create an environment where these innovations can be implemented at scale. We have brilliant, resourceful health workers in emerging markets who deliver the best care they can under some pretty tough circumstances. We are working on overcoming thesechallenges by delivering impactful solutions and pursuing partnerships that align with and amplify our solutions.

Share with us your experience with the Cartier Women’s Initiative: why is it significant to you, and how will this initiative help LifeBank grow?

The experience with Cartier Women’s Initiative was an awesome one. The incredible insight from my mentor helped us figure out our B2B model. The financial model feedback from Simple Startup has helped us close our significant Series A round — and above all [there is also] the amazing community, the alumni, laureates and fellows. The Cartier Women’s Initiative award will help LifeBank with our current expansion plan to other African countries.

The knowledge gained from the Cartier Women’s Initiative, especially risk management, will come in handy as LifeBank continues to grow and expand to other countries.

What do you hope to gain from this initiative and what are your goals and aspirations for LifeBank?

I look forward to learning more about using passion to drive positive change. I hope to learn from other laureates and fellows on the impact they are making in their respective countries. At LifeBank, our plan is to continue saving more lives by expanding our operations to other African countries. We see that Africa yearn for more reliable healthcare service and our goal is to answer that call and spread smiles across the continent through our product and services. 

 

Anna Sophie Harvitgsen Partner, Female Invest

Tell us about you, your background and what inspired you to start Female Invest.

I come from a small city where no one actively invests or talks about money. However, I was always fascinated with money and the freedom that it brought, so I started working when I was 13 and taught myself to invest when I was 19 years old. I quickly fell in love with it, but as none of my friends shared my passion, it became a lonely love affair.

I was puzzled by this lack of female investors, so I started researching the topic. I learned that women are falling financially behind. They earn less, save less and fail to invest their money. Among the key drivers of this problem is widespread financial illiteracy and a lack of targeted offers and role models. I

didn’t know how to solve this problem, until I started university and met my co-founder, Emma Bitz. She shared my passion for investing and had been working as a certified stockbroker since the age of 20. We immediately bonded, and the idea to start Female Invest arose in our first-ever conversation.

When we started Female Invest, we initially thought it would be a hobby project, uniting a smaller group of women with an interest in investing. Today, Female Invest is Northern Europe’s leading financial educator targeting women.

We have helped more than 25,000 women to get started in investing, written a (Danish) best-seller on the topic, ranked on the Forbes 30 under 30 list and closed partnerships with the biggest players in the financial industry. I firmly believe that financial equality is a prerequisite for equality in all other aspects of life and my mission is to help women around the world achieve it.

What are the pressing issues which you hope to address through Female Invest, and why?

There are 195 countries in the world, and none of them have achieved financial gender equality. There are many reasons for this: Women earn less, save less and fail to invest their money. Among the key drivers of this problem is widespread financial illiteracy and a lack of targeted offers and role models.

What were the highs and lows, and how did you overcome them?

As an entrepreneur, making mistakes is inevitable. We have made many mistakes along the way, but we have always managed to move on and learn from them. It’s all about mindset, and we luckily have a team of very solution oriented people. So we always start looking for solutions rather than dwelling on the problems.

So far, Covid-19 is our biggest challenge, as the majority of our revenue used to come from physical events. However, we managed to pivot, going 100% digital, and increased revenue by 300% in the time following the pandemic.

Share with us your experience with the Cartier Women’s Initiative: why is it significant to you, and how will this initiative help Female Invest grow?

Around the world, women are underrepresented on the start-up scene. I have experienced first-hand how the lack of role models impact the perception of what is possible. I therefore think that the Cartier Women’s initiative is not important just because of the female entrepreneurs who benefit directly but also for its role in promoting entrepreneurship among girls around the world.

Through this initiative, we have learned valuable lessons on how to optimise our company and we have become part of a network of visionary women from around the world. Since joining the initiative, we have increased our global presence and we now have members in 33 countries. I now feel even more confident in the impact we can create, and I cannot wait to help even more women around the world. 

 

Charlotte Wang Founder and CEO, EQuota Energy

Tell us about EQuota, and your inspiration to start EQuota.

EQuota Energy is AI-based data analytics SaaS [software as a service] company supporting large manufacturing factories to reduce their energy consumption, improve business operations and reduce serious injuries and fatalities.

[We aim to] revamp energy systems with AI and Big Data for a low carbon future. EQuota Energy helps very large, energy-intensive manufacturers — such as steel, cement and chemical manufacturers — to reduce their energy consumption and make them aware of defective machines, thereby reducing the wastage of electricity, the downtime due to broken machinery and fatalities of workers.

I grew up in a rural village named Bei Piao in the Liaoning Province, China, where my parents were sent during the 10-year Cultural Revolution.

The village is known for its large coal mines, with a few coal-fired power plants in the area. The coal-mining industry polluted the environment in the province — growing up, I rarely wore white shoes as it will be grey by the end of day; the same happens with white shirts and white skirts. I also suffered from [sinusitis] very early on — I struggled with my breath especially during wintertime when coal was the only energy source.

My sinus issue went away when I went to the US for college, and as I studied and did research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I saw how technology could contribute to climate change and change the existing environment. My research then was directly associated with [finding] clean energy sources to replace traditional coalfired power plants to reduce carbon footprint, using AI and Big Data analytics.

At the same time, as I had my first child then, I felt a strong urge to use my knowledge and technology for social and environmental good for the next generation, and [prevent them from experiencing] what I had in my childhood.

What are the pressing issues which you hope to address through EQuota, and why?

Some of the issues we hope to address include how we can provide integrated services that will save energy, and reduce unplanned downtime and fatalities with non-intrusive technology. Our clients in energy-intensive industries want to reduce costs caused by unplanned downtime from equipment failure, energy consumption and fatalities.

In addition, our clients are pressured by the government to reduce energy costs and reduce environmental pollution. As such, they seek the best solution for reducing energy cost, loss of lives, and non-interrupted operations. EQuota Energy helps [them to do this].

Our patented, non-intrusive technology helps directly without capex, without impediment to business operations, and ensures reliability and optimisation — we own six patents, with eight more pending. Now that I am sitting on government committees, I am able to present these statistics and show these results to influence the policymakers to make the right decisions.

What were the highs and lows?

The highs were definitely the excitement of commercialising the technology I have developed, and the joy from clients using our products to see measurable results (reducing carbon, energy cost, unplanned downtime and fatalities). However, the slowness of the decision-making process due to the existing system and government requirements is difficult. It is also disheartening to see the fatal accidents which could have totally been prevented by new technology and services.

How did you overcome the challenges you faced?

My incredible team — I am very happy and proud of my team. My family has also been supporting me through my start-up journey, and they moved across the world for me, from the US to Shanghai, supporting me to dream big and execute my plan. I also have incredible mentors; and life has brought me to meet these wonderful people with experience to guide me to look at how to do business in China and how to strategise with government policies.

Share with us your experience with the Cartier Women’s Initiative: why is it significant to you, and how will this initiative help EQuota grow?

The Cartier Women’s Initiative provides such a strong impact-driven community for me to grow personally and professionally with their strong business coaching and business community support. It helps me to find a similar voice here. It opens a door to let me join an international environment circle to support one another, especially during Covid-19.

I view the initiative as the international platform which enables EQuota to work with many countries to generate more revenue, save energy and reduce injuries, helping me to work in the global market.

This is such a strong network — it can help me to make connections with the local governments. The initiative has provided me with training in financial modelling and presentation, which truly helps me to review our strategy at the current stage of EQuota. I hope to meet more [people] within the network and community after Covid-19, and learn from them.

I would like to share my experience in green energy development and contribute to young women by encouraging them to work for themselves, working with a start-up. I would like to devote time and effort to be a mentor, and volunteer to encourage women to run a social-impact-driven business.