One woman is revolutionizing no-waste packaging, while another is overseeing the transformation of the agro-food industry in Africa. They’re just two of the eight visionaries who have been named the 2021 laureates of the Cartier Women’s Initiative (CWI).
The legendary jewelry house has been honoring forward-thinking women since 2006, providing both financial support and mentorship to female business owners around the globe. Today the program is considered a leading platform for elevating women-owned businesses, and its 2021 numbers—876 applications submitted from 142 countries—confirm that idea. The eight winning laureates, announced in a virtual ceremony on May 26, each received $100,000 grants, while 16 additional finalists each received $30,000 grants. Over the 15 years of the Cartier Women’s Initiative, the brand has awarded more than $4 million to roughly 200 women in 60 different countries.
“This year our 24 fellows range from all parts of the world, with first-time representation from Mali, Iraq, and Myanmar,” noted Wingee Sampaio, global program director of the Cartier Women’s Initiative. “They also range from all stages of life, from 26 years old to 55 years old, and from all walks of life: scientists, doctors, and midwives to serial impact entrepreneurs … this grant is intended to acknowledge their ambition in creating social and environmental change and to further scale their business and its impact.” Sampaio added that each award also comes with benefits that include media visibility, networking opportunities, and one-on-one support training in everything from finances to social media.
Cartier traditionally selects honorees across seven global regions, and this year added an eighth category, the Science & Technology Pioneer Award. The women named the 2021 Cartier Women’s Initative Laureates are:
Rebecca Hui, North America/USA, the founder and CEO of Roots Studio, which provides designers with access to work that allows them to both remain in and support their local communities, rather than move to larger cities to secure employment;
Corina Huang, East Asia/Taiwan, founder & CEO of Boncha Boncha, a high-absorption candy pill that provides nutrition to people who have difficulty swallowing conventional pills;
Rebecca Percasky, South Asia & Oceania/New Zealand, co-founder and director of The Better Packaging Co., which is producing sustainable packaging solutions while also educating about the importance of zero-waste packaging;
Basima Abdulrahman, Middle East & North Africa/Iraq, founder & CEO of Kesk, which offers green building products and services that are transforming the ways buildings and communities are constructed and maintained in Iraq;
Seynabou Dieng, Sub-Saharan Africa/Mali, founder & CEO of Maya, a food-processing company that specializes in grocery-store products created through partnerships with farmers in Mali;
and the 2021 Science & Technology Pioneer Award winner, Orianna Bretschger, North America/USA, founder and CEO of Aquacycl, which designs “plug-and-play” modular systems that offer on-site solutions for water treatment that are both organic and energy-neutral.
What’s most impressive about the Cartier Women’s Initiative is how it not only communicates the stories of these women to its considerable audience, but also creates a space for a variety of accomplished women to gather and share ideas. The awards ceremony capped three days of virtual programming that included panels with previous CWI winners, as well as guest speakers that included Maria Shriver, astronaut and former NASA Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa, and Harvard Business School professor Laura Huang.
Cyrille Vigneron, president and CEO of Cartier International, noted during the awards ceremony that the program was created because the company saw a vital need that continues to be a challenge in the business community. “Female entrepreneurs still experience more difficult access to financing and credibility,” he explained. “CWI and other initiatives can really give them the platform, the credit, the support, and the community that make them feel less lonely and [experience] better support. From all the testimonials we’ve had during the past three days, we’ve seen that having a community really helps everyone to go ahead and to make this a better world.”
Laureates were quick to agree that the program reinforced the drive that spawned their ideas. “Being selected as a Cartier Women’s Initiative laureate means the credibility to take Root Studio to the next level while standing alongside an amazing group of women impact entrepreneurs as we continue on this lifelong journey together,” Hui said.
Through The Better Packaging Co., Percasky said she would use her grant to further a project still in the development stage. “Rebecca dreamed of a waste-free world and decided to take the steps to make that dream a reality,” said Mercedes Abramo, president and CEO of Cartier North America. “She created The Better Packaging Co. to help solve the global waste crisis, and by producing sustainable packaging and educating about waste, [Better Packaging] has sold 40 million bags to 12,000 customers in 50 countries, reaching tens of thousands of people with its zero-waste message.”
Another first for the Cartier Women’s Initiative this year is its recognition of Basima Abdulrahman, who is the first CWI laureate to represent Iraq. “Basima is providing an energy-efficient solution to tackling the frequent power outages experienced in her home country,” Vigneron said. “She created Kesk, a company that offers green building services and products that change the way buildings and communities are planned, constructed, and operated in Iraq. In 2020, the company began testing a standalone solar unit; it aims to sell between 3,000 and 5,000 units in the next five years.”
Like her fellow nominees, Abdulrahman ultimately knows that the recognition from this global brand is not only an honor, but also a game changer for her work and her company. “Being selected as Cartier laureate is a huge step forward,” she said. “It sends a powerful message that our hard work is greatly appreciated—but also means that no matter where I come from, I can always dream big.”