Returning to the road in New Mexico in pursuit of making art.
Cartier's Women's Initiative supports entrepreneurs creating social impact through uncommon, yet crucial businesses.
AS A HOSPITAL psychiatrist in Seoul, Woori Moon faced a seemingly intractable problem: the numbers were not adding up. South Korea has 2.5 million citizens with mental health issues and only 3,000 psychiatrists. “I faced this situation day-to-day,” she says, adding that the consequences were dire: “The suicide rate in Korea is the highest among all the countries.” While she couldn’t single-handedly train an army of doctors to respond to the crushing need, she did have a software-based solution: Mindling, an app that uses artificial intelligence to offer personalized, accessible mental-health support. Today, the app has over 100,000 users — and plans to scale.
Moon has been able to connect with other women entrepreneurs focused on social impact through the Cartier Women’s Initiative — a different kind of gem within the jewelry brand’s ecosystem. The program, which began in 2006, offers coaching, media opportunities, and education through the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires, most commonly known as INSEAD, one of the top business schools in the world. The initiative’s fellows include nearly 300 women entrepreneurs from 63 countries working in areas as wide-ranging as environmental impact and public health.
Moon says that the women are united in their purpose. “We all operate a different business model in different areas of the world, but we share a really common vision of creating sustainable impacts with real business, not through charity work.” While each entrepreneur is set on social impact, the ultimate aim is to establish a self-sustaining financial model creating jobs and opportunities within the community.
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To be able to share a different narrative, where local women are the ones harnessing their ancestral knowledge to create a climate solution, is incredibly powerful.
Denica Riadini-Flesch, another Cartier fellow, was a development economist researching systemic poverty and its long-term perpetuation in rural Indonesia when she discovered a group of women creating fabrics and clothes by hand, yet earning less than a dollar a day. “It sparked a flame inside me,” she shares. “I wanted to build a bridge, and really reconnect consumers from all over the world with these amazing women, who are actually working from their homes in the villages to make the clothes that we wear every day.” Now she leads SukkhaCitta, which employs the women to create handcrafted apparel from sustainable cotton, sourced from small farms.
After raising the women’s incomes by 60%, a sort of problem-solving domino effect occurred: Riadini-Flesch realized that synthetic dyes and chemicals were harmful to the environment, so she switched to plant dyes. Next, she explored how the fibers were grown. “Cotton’s actually the dirtiest crop in the world,” she says. “That’s because, to grow it, you basically have to cut down all this forest and grow cotton in this monoculture kind of way. This becomes completely non-resilient. That’s why you have to introduce chemical inputs like fertilizer or pesticides. And it’s degrading the conditions of the soil, such that the soil can no longer absorb carbon from the atmosphere.” So, she focused her efforts on soil regeneration — across about 1,000 hectares. Sustainability, Riadini-Flesch notes, has always been a very Western-driven agenda. To be able to share a different narrative, where local women are the ones harnessing their ancestral knowledge to create a climate solution, is incredibly powerful.
It gave me a sense of belonging, as a woman founder.
When another Cartier fellow, Yvette Ishimwe, moved with her family from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, to a small village in 2015, the only way they could access water was by pumping it from a nearby lake. But the water was not drinkable, and the purification kit cost $400. This is a common problem across this part of sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a safe-water crisis and half of Rwandans are unable to access clean drinking water. “No one should have to die or get sick for a lack of something so basic and so achievable as safe water,” she shares in her profile on the Cartier Women’s Initiative site. “I believe that water is life, and life is a human right.”
Ishimwe won a business competition for her proposal to build a solar-powered water plant for pumping potable water from a natural spring to kiosks where people could easily access it. In 2017, she scaled this concept into Iriba Water Group. The company offers clean water via ATMs equipped with water-purification technology. Since Iriba Water Group’s inception, it has brought clean water at affordable prices to over 300,000 people in Rwanda and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Moon and the other fellows report that the chance to connect with one another has been invaluable. “It gave me a sense of belonging, as a woman founder.”
Riadini-Flesch echoes this. “For me, the most transformative experience from the Cartier Women’s community is, as cliche as this is, really the community. Being able to sit with these women from all over the world, being completely vulnerable about the challenges that we face, how we feel, how we put ourselves last because we put everything into the company. And that makes you realize that you’re not alone and that because of that, you actually should dream bigger.”
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Victoria Black is an art director at Departures. They love typography, vegan treats, and collaborating with other artists. When not in Queens, you can probably find them in an old museum or exploring Paris.
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