“Women have more sensitivity than men. Sometimes I really feel that more women should take responsibility in the leadership of our planet. It would mean less violence.” said the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
Women have led the charge and paved the way forward for social enterprises. And they’ve already achieved wonders. International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day to celebrate social, culture, economic and political achievements of women.
This year, IWD says Choose To Challenge. ‘The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.’
Today we are highlighting just a few of these champions who have taken the world by storm through their businesses.
‘Women social entrepreneurs have, time and time again, made a deep impact in their work through a form of impact called “scaling deep” — overhauling unfair and unjust systems, sparking collaborative social movements, and reshaping dominant expectations, norms, and stigmas.’ — World Economic Forum
At the core of women empowerment is how females have been striving to gain rights and fight oppression. To achieve such virtuous and honourable goals, these entrepreneurs have chosen to create a business that is involved in making a social impact.
Women surveyed by the WEstart project were shown to have a personal connection with the mission of their social enterprises; and they had a personal or first-hand experience motivating them.
Human rights start with you - Breakthrough.
Mallika Dutt is the founder of Breakthrough, which is an organisation driving change using media, art and technology that promotes human rights values of equality, dignity and respect. They’ve done collaborations with people like students, artists, community leaders, cultural workers to uplift creative and transformative efforts for their change. Using what they know, they aim to reject any cultural norms, practices and products that perpetuate discrimination and violence.
Breakthrough’s campaigns uplifts communities of women and girls, migrants and those living with HIV-Aids.
“Our current goal is to create social actors around the world who challenge violence and discrimination against women.
“Human rights at their core are about the rights we all share: to live a life with dignity. That means that each one of us has to be accountable for how we treat our partners, our colleagues, our communities and ourselves.
“Young people are absolutely critical for human rights leadership because they are not only the ones who will be most affected by our current global challenges; they also have new ways of thinking and being that may be more effective in getting us to a better place.
“It really starts with you. At the end of the day, if you treat the people closest to you with respect, you can change the world.” said Mallika Dutt, former President and CEO.
AFGHAN INSTITUTE OF LEARNING
Dr Sakena Yacoobi’s vision is what started it all.
Their mission? To provide education, training and health services to vulnerable Afghans in order to foster self-reliance, critical thinking skills and community participation.
Back in the 1990s, in the refugee camps where there were no educational opportunities, she founded Afghan Institute of Learning. She wanted to help the people improve their situations and provide education as well as health care. AIL operated 80 “secret schools” for 3000 girls during the Taliban regime and when the latter were removed from power, AIL expanded to establish clinics, provide legal aid, run workshops, open learning centres and hold conferences on subjects like love and forgiveness.
After decades of strife and ensuing war, she’s impacted millions of lives by providing early childhood to primary education. Today, AIL imparts knowledge to girls and boys with skills and knowledge. It is constantly working to rebuild the education system by also training 21,000 teachers, 10,000 healthcare staff and operating a hospital which has 2,000 patients every month.
“I pray for the day when the world sees more than the war - when they see the other side of Afghanistan.
“Every single girl must be educated in Afghanistan - that is my dream. I don’t have a small dream. My vision is big, has been big and is going to remain big.
“She is hopeless. I cannot save her. You cannot save her. She must save herself. That is why I give her skills, I give her training, I give her education and I give her love and courage.” said Dr Yacoobi, who holds six doctorates from institutions like Princeton University; and was honoured with a multitude of awards from the Sunhak Peace Prize to being nominated as one of 1000 women for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since its startup in 2016, Anannya Parekh’s social venture has made an impact on over 10,000 poor and underprivileged girls and young women across cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru. Inner Goddess empowers them by educating on the importance of financial literacy and anxiety, mental health issues and personal investing.
“There was a relative uproar in the women's movement around the time, and people were just starting to understand the subjects of feminism and equality ... they do not know how to do it because nobody ever taught them. The education system is not teaching us these things and women are falling behind because of that.
"So, the vision right now is to ensure that a lot of these girls get the right kind of information about personal finance, so their literacy around it becomes higher. It will automatically help them make better decisions.” said Parekh, who has represented India at global summits.
Kristine Pearson’s the driving force behind Lifeline Energy.
Since 1999, Lifeline Energy has worked at communication initiatives for people across Africa by integrating MP3 players and radios into areas like health, education, climate change, agriculture and emergencies.
They have distributed more than 685,000 wind-up, solar-powered radios so millions of listeners can get facts, help and even how to get tested during this pandemic. Even before that, Lifeline Energy provided education broadcasts in Zambia after HIV-Aids cost teachers their lives; relief information in flood-flattened Mozambique; providing English lessons in Kenya and life skills to child-headed households in Rwanda post-genocide.
“Orphans in Rwanda didn’t trust the adults around them. Somebody next door could have been complicit in their parents’ murders. What I loved most was seeing the power of radio in a language they could understand, a voice they could trust, so that they did not have to make their decisions by guesswork.
“A man who heads a nonprofit is considered heroic or enlightened, whereas I’ve been patronised numerous times as the charity worker.”
“Don’t try to solve a problem you don’t understand. Live it, or work for an organisation. Be as close to it as possible, otherwise you’ll waste money and not help.” said Kristine Pearson, who served on the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for 8 years.
She’s been honoured with the James C Morgan Global Humanitarian Award and TIME magazine named her Hero of the Environment in 2007.
RAVEN + LILY
Raven + Lily’s designs are inspired by the culture of the women who created the products. As a certified B Corporation, it is committed to responsible production of handcrafted accessories using recycled or repurposed materials.
It also believes in championing women from all backgrounds and cultures. After all, Kirsten Dickerson founded her business to aid in alleviating poverty by employing over 1,500 marginalised women globally by providing a sustainable income, a safe job, education, health care and a real chance for them and their families.
“Our focus on women has never and will never be compromised; it is the very heartbeat of Raven + Lily. Since college, I have felt called to be an advocate for women. I have seen firsthand how women globally can overcome great odds and circumstances when given empowerment opportunities through education, access to meaningful work, and micro loans.
“I am inspired daily by the strength and resilience of the women in our partnerships. I love sharing their stories so that our customers can also be inspired by the amazing women involved in all our production.” said Dickerson.
Slow down, take a pause, breathe and reflect.
Hush Teabar is a social movement that advocates for mental health and employs people who have/are recovering from mental health conditions.
It has become Singapore’s first silent teabar with the aim of bringing self care and social inclusion to communities and workplaces, through a humble cup of tea.
The Hush Experience brings together the deaf and hearing by having the former lead participants through 4 zones: Intention, Hush, Expression and Sharing.
‘We see you – through the good times and the bad. We feel your endless exhaustion, and working hours that never seem to end. We see your stress.
We also see your smiles, joy, and reverberating laughter. We want to let you know that you are not alone, in times of sorrow and joy.
We can’t stop time, but we can make time in the moment to care for ourselves, be it to rest or rejoice. Let us support you by giving you a safe space of silence to take a pause.’ — Hush Teabar
“I have much admiration for the Deaf, for their strong sense of identity and culture. I wanted to challenge the notion of disAbility by flipping the world around. In a space of silence where spoken words are not needed, where is their disability? And who is disabled?
“A caring and inclusive society can only come from caring and inclusive workplaces.” said Ong.
BLUE SKY ANALYTICS
One day in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, a river turned orange.
It was at that moment Abhilasha Purwar saw the devastation of climate change. The incident impacted her so greatly she chose to pursue a master’s in Environmental Management at Yale.
“Enough is enough.” and so, with her brother, they created Blue Sky Analytics. It is leading the fight against air pollution by using the power of artificial intelligence and satellites to provide real-time data on the environment. The next on their list of issues is water quality and pollution. They’re aiming to solve big problems by tackling it at grassroot level.
“When you are a female founder and you’re only meeting men, you start to normalise behaviour which you shouldn’t otherwise. When I started Blue Sky Analytics, for a year I was meeting men every day. Investors, employees - all had been men. Finding other women became a specific task. The representation is poor, way poorer than we think it is.
“Women often go for safe jobs, I feel they need to be more self-driven and take risks. I’ve seen that people who took more risks have done better.
“I advise young people to explore not what you want to do, but what you don’t want to do … As a startup, too, you are scared and self-conscious. It’s about doing the little things, one step at a time and overcoming that fear.” said Purwar.
We hope their lives and work will inspire you to do good.
‘We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.’ — IWD