The 18 finalists of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards have found solutions for future generations.

SINGAPORE (Apr 9): When nature calls, we head for the nearest loo without a second thought. But in some parts of the world, proper toilets are a rare commodity and women suffer most because of that. Often, they make do with holein- the-ground toilets that lack basic sanitation. As a result, they fall prey to disease and sometimes, even death.

To solve this problem, Diana Yousef (left) from the US has come up with change: WATER Labs — portable evaporative toilets that require no electricity or plumbing. They work by evaporating the 90% to 95% of water that makes up human waste.

A polymer membrane is used to soak up this liquid content and accelerate its evaporation, leaving behind dried solids that are safely contained inside the membrane. The vapours released in the process condense as pure clean water. The toilet does not need a tank, sewerage pipes or a power source to function. These off-grid toilets only need to be serviced once or twice monthly.

Yousef is one of the 18 finalists of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, which supports women entrepreneurs and creative excellence around the world. Six winners, one from each region (Asia-Pacific; Europe; Latin America; Middle East and North Africa; North America, and Sub-Saharan Africa) will be announced at the awards ceremony at Capella Singapore on April 26. Before that, the finalists will spend a week here taking part in bespoke workshops and coaching sessions at Insead Asia Campus.

The winning laureates will each receive US$100,000 ($131,063) and one-on-one personalised business mentoring, while the remaining finalists will take home US$30,000 each.

Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

Since 2006, Cartier, in partnership with Insead Business School and McKinsey & Co, has supported women entrepreneurs leading creative, for-profit start-ups that are financially sustainable and socially responsible.

In a press release, CEO of Cartier International Cyrille Vigneron says: “In a decade, out of 198 finalists creating over 6,000 jobs, 80% are still in activity, which is an amazing rate for startups.” In view of that, Cartier has upped the scale of the competition and given it a bigger prize.

This year, 2,800 applications — double that in 2017 — from over 130 countries (including first-timers Austria, Cameroon and Pakistan) were received for the awards. The finalists are working on effective and affordable solutions in sanitation, healthcare, social care systems and technology.

Changing the world

The desire to make a positive change in society often starts because of a personal problem. Like 10% of the world’s population, Luz Rello (right) of Spain had dyslexia, a neurological learning disorder that affects reading and writing. Many children affected by this “hidden disorder” are diagnosed too late for effective intervention.

Thanks to early detection, Rello overcame the challenges of dyslexia and went on to do well academically, proving that it is possible to develop and learn strategies to counteract its negative effects. To help fellow sufferers, she has developed a programme that can detect dyslexia and provides exercises for Spanish-speaking children with the condition.

Change Dyslexia offers a unique mix of artificial intelligence, computer games, linguistic studies and data. A free, multi-platform 15- minute game called Dytective Test can be used to detect dyslexia with 90% accuracy, unlike current diagnostic methods, which take longer and are more expensive.

A second tool, DytectiveU, provides afflicted children a choice of 35,000 game-based exercises targeting 24 dyslexia-related cognitive skills. Therapists can then use DytectiveU PRO to get detailed reports on their patients’ cognitive skills and track their progress.

In the past five months, over 100,000 children have taken Rello’s detection test while DytectiveU has been downloaded 8,541 times. She is currently working on making the programme available in other languages.

Melissa Bime (left), the finalist for Middle East and North Africa, was formerly a nurse in a Cameroon hospital. One day, she saw a five-year-old girl die because there was no blood available for a transfusion. A few days later, the hospital found there was compatible blood available at a medical centre nearby. This “avoidable” death infuriated Bime, who set out to find a solution.

In 2015, at the age of 18, she started Infiuss, an online blood bank that collects and dispatches blood to hospitals. Infiuss also categorises blood supplies and serves as a database of all the blood types available at various hospitals.

“It motivates me every day that I’m actually doing something that matters to someone else’s life,” says Bime in a press release.

The same can be said for Kristen Kagetsu (right) from India, who co-founded Saathi, an all-natural sanitary pad.

Initially, the US-born Kagetsu moved to India to develop and sell machines that produce sanitary pads. But when she arrived, she was confronted with the environmental challenges the country was facing regarding the disposal of sanitary waste. So she began producing environmentally friendly sanitary pads instead.

Conventional pads contain toxic chemical agents and, on average, use 3.4g of plastic each. That adds up to 150,000 tonnes of waste per year, with every pad releasing 23.4g of carbon dioxide in the process.

Saathi is combating the problem with its 100% all-natural, biodegradable sanitary pads made of banana fibre, a by-product of banana farming, which requires less land, water and fertiliser than cotton, which is widely used in other biodegradable pads.

These pads degrade within six months of disposal — 1,200 times faster than conventional ones. While disposal is a problem, the larger issue is that 84% of women in India do not have access to sanitary pads at all. Because of that, pubescent girls often miss classes or decide to stop schooling altogether, while working women stay home from work when they have their period, which affects their income and independence.

Concerned about this, Saathi directs 30% of its sales to NGOs committed to improving access to sanitary pads and health education for women. Last year, it sold 45,000 pads, at a subsidised price, to NGOs in rural communities in India. It hopes to increase the number of pads sold to nine million this year.

Yousef, Rello, Bime and Kagetsu are among the amazing women with “curiosity, audacity and willpower to lead change” who will be celebrated at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. “Sharing these women’s dreams and lives is part of who we are,” Vigneron says.

To find out more about the other finalists, log on to explore/edition/2018.

M S Tai enjoys the finer things in life, including food, wine and music

This article appeared in Issue 825 (Apr 9) of The Edge Singapore.

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