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The eight laureates of the 2021 Cartier Women’s Initiative illustrate the power of the ripple effect

From accelerating the use of clean energy to protecting the intellectual property of rural artists, these year's winners are bettering the world in myriad ways.

Now into its 14th year, the Cartier Women’s Initiative (CWI) 2021 centred on the theme Ripple Effect. It’s the perfect way to describe the work of CWI fellows — female entrepreneurs using their businesses as a way to make the world a better place. Since 2006, the CWI has been helping these women to expand their enterprises by providing them with the requisite financial and social support to do so.

This year’s edition saw 876 applicants from 142 countries. In May, eight laureates, or winners, were selected by an independent international jury. Each laureate will receive US$100,000 (S$132,273) in prize money, while the first and second runners-up will receive US$30,000. The laureates, as well as 16 finalists, will also get to participate in tailored one-on-one training, collective workshops and an Insead impact entrepreneurship programme. Here’s how the CWI laureates are making the world a better place:

1) Valentina Rogacheva, Verqor (Mexico)

  • Cartier Women's Initiative Valentina Rogacheva

Mexico is home to 5.5 million farmers, most of whom are smallholders. Their modest operations typically support a family, and more than 90 percent of them have no access to credit or financial services. This limits their ability to improve agricultural operations or adopt new technologies that can increase yields. Verqor gives these farmers data-based cashless credits, which they can use to buy agricultural supplies on Verqor’s platform.

2) Rebecca Hui, Roots Studio (USA)

Cartier Women's Initiative Rebecca Hui

Cultural appropriation is more than just a big buzzword. It can have huge ramifications for the rural artists whose works, including tapestries, tattoos and murals, can end up being appropriated by big companies. Seeing how many rural creatives had to leave their villages for urban areas because they were unable to make a living from their works, Hui started Roots Studio, which works with rural communities around the world to digitise their cultural heritage that can then be licensed as intellectual property.

3) Andrea Barber, RatedPower (Spain)

  • Cartier Women's Initiative Andrea Barber

While working as an engineering consultant for a renewable energy company, Andrea Barber saw the inefficiencies inherent in the design process. Developing and building solar installations are often held up by time-consuming tasks such as calculating energy production, studying terrain elevations or determining the optimal distance between solar panels. RatedPower aims to digitise the renewable energy industry and accelerate the adoption of clean energy with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product that discovers the smartest ways to design solar energy plants and automates their engineering.

4) Seynabou Dieng, Maya (Mali)

  • Cartier Women's Initiative Seynabou Dieng

In Mali, 75 per cent of the population depends on agriculture, but the sector accounts only for 38 per cent of the country’s GDP. Because of an underdeveloped food industry, Mali imports most of its manufactured food products. Founded by Seynabou Dieng, Maya produces manufactured foods made with local agricultural products and inspired by family recipes. Since 2017, the company has processed 78 tons of vegetables and cereals, a third of which come from its partner farmers.

5) Basima Abdulrahman, Kesk (Iraq)

Cartier Women's Initiative Basima Abdulrahman

Basima Abdulrahman found her calling as a civil engineer only when she was studying in the US and learnt about green building design. It’s a discipline that is highly relevant in Iraq, where temperatures can reach 48 degrees Celsius and each househould has four air-conditioning units — but the national power grid offers power only for up to 12 hours a day. Kesk offers green building services and products that change the way buildings and communities are planned, constructed, maintained and operated in the country.

6) Corina Huang, Boncha Boncha (Taiwan)

Cartier Women's Initiative Corina Huang

Serial entrepreneur Corina Huang noticed that her grandmother, who had had a stroke, found it difficult to swallow her pills. The difficulty in swallowing pills, known as pill-related dysphagia, is estimated to affect half the world’s population. Using know-how gleaned from her second venture, a confectionery company, Huang and her team developed a special candy-making technology to create the medical confections produced under her third venture, Boncha Boncha.

7) Rebecca Percasky, The Better Packaging Co. (New Zealand)

Cartier Women's Initiative Rebecca Percasky

E-commerce has made shopping more convenient than ever, but the downside? All that single-use packaging. Rebecca Percasky was working for an e-commerce technology startup when she saw how much waste the industry generated, as well as how rapidly e-commerce was growing. Deciding that she wanted to be part of the solution instead of the problem, she started Better Packaging, which produces sustainable packaging, practices product stewardship, and communicates about waste.

8) Orianna Bretschger, Aquacyl (USA)

  • Cartier Women's Initiative Orianna Bretschger

Growing up in the American southwest, says Orianna Breschger, “water issues have always been paramount”. With reliable running water and plumbing not a given, wastewater has long been a key area of concern for this innovator. While studying material science and engineering at the University of Southern California, she researched how to electronically control the way bacteria breathe and eat, a process that turned out to be enormously beneficial for waste treatment. In 2016, Bretschger founded Aquacycl to offer a cost-effective on-site wastewater treatment system that can operate in all kinds of spaces, including single-family homes, small communities and manufacturing plants.

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