Ramallah (Nisaa FM) - It is by now a well-established fact that women and men are equally capable of founding and managing their own businesses – true entrepreneurial spirit knows no gender-divide. There is, however, also much evidence to the effect that the social, economic and personal obstacles women face in setting up their own businesses are different and in many cases more difficult to overcome than those faced by their male counterparts. Aware of the vulnerability of many women in the initial stages of their start-up ventures, Cartier, the Women's Forum, McKinsey & Company and INSEAD Business School in 2006 founded the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs across the world. This year, 20 finalists representing 18 projects from six regions (Latin America, North America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East & North Africa, and Asia-Pacific) have been selected on the basis of the short business plans they submitted along with 1700 other women from more than 100 different countries. The 20 finalists will receive coaching from experienced businesspeople before moving on to the next and final round, to take place in October this year, where they are required to submit a detailed business plan and present their projects to an international jury. One Laureate from each of the six regions will be selected, each receiving a reward of US $ 20 000 of funding, one year of coaching, networking opportunities and media exposure.
The business ventures that each of the finalists represent are as different and unique as the women behind them. Suzanna Moreira, representing Mozambique, was inspired by the retailers in rural or semi-urban communities in Mozambique who usually travel to South Africa to replenish their stock. The vast majority of informal cross-border traders are women who leave their families to make this long and risky journey. Suzanna’s mobile information service offers access to products without having to travel, vastly improving the social and economic opportunities of Mozambique’s cross-border retailers. Mouna Abbassy, originally from Morocco, has created her own cosmetics brand based on her personal experience with Moroccan beauty rituals such as the use of Argan oil and Ghassoul clay. Adding a social development aspect to her project, Mouna has chosen to manufacture her cosmetics in Morocco in order to increase the employment prospects among the Berber community. Worried about the high university drop-out rate in South America (currently at 40-50%), Denise Abulafia from Argentina has created an online platform that aims to democratize access to world-class education. Profiles of all the 18 finalists and their respective projects are available at the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards website.