PARIS — The Cartier Women’s Initiative program swelled into a three-day, online event this year, dubbed “The Ripple Effect,” and illustrating how the pandemic has recast industry traditions and broadened their audience.
“It’s even more exciting in some ways than what we had done before,” said Cartier chief executive officer Cyrille Vigneron of the online program, which can be accessed well past the official broadcast dates that wound up Wednesday. The event included discussions of subjects like “anti-fragility,” an idea developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb — who took part in the program — that shocks and stress can serve to strengthen systems. Other participants were Yara Shahidi, Maria Shriver and Jacqueline Novogratz.
Winners of the $100,000 in prize money were Rebecca Hui of Roots Studio, which helps indigenous communities in digitize their works to preserve their intellectual property; Valentina Rogacheva of Mexico-based Verqor, which provides financial services to farmers; Corina Huang of Boncha Boncha, who developed high-absorption candy pills to provide nutrition to people who struggle to swallow traditional pills; Rebecca Percasky of The Better Packaging Co., a company in New Zealand that sells sustainable packaging; Andrea Barber of RatedPower, which automates the engineering of solar energy plants; Basima Abdulrahman of Kesk, a company that addresses power outages in Iraq through green building services; Seynabou Dieng of Maya Sarl, a food processing company in Mali, and Orianna Bretschger of Aquacycl, an organic waste treatment company.
Last fall, when the brand started planning the event, given the uncertainty, organizers opted for a series of conferences aimed at reaching a broader audience, aimed at entrepreneurs. Plans for a physical event in Boston last year, following San Francisco in 2019, had been scuppered by the pandemic.
The brand leaned on its own social media accounts as well as those of the speakers — many of whom have considerable followings — and prize finalists.
“To reach people in today’s world is in some ways easier than we thought,” remarked Vigneron, citing LinkedIn as one of the social networks the label drew on.
“You can come to 100,000 very fast” with a posting, he noted.
Reflecting on how the pandemic environment has affected the brand’s efforts supporting businesses, in the case of Cartier Women’s Initiative as well as the philanthropic activities, the executive noted a sense of urgency on some fronts and extra involvement on others, including the environment, and working toward more sustainable practices.
“We thought about how we have to live together in a different way,” he said, noting that paying attention to the environment is “important in supporting the community.”
Lockdown periods were times of isolation for many entrepreneurs, so Cartier worked to reinforce its community to ensure support through networking in addition to financing, he said.
The executive noticed strong interest among applicants and finalists in maintaining contact with the community linked to the program.
“They had an eagerness to become a part of it especially because they felt more difficulties or more loneliness in that period,” he observed, explaining that many applicants have kept ties with jury members, mentors and coaches over the years.
Cartier added an award category for innovation in science and technology this time, which rounds out the subjects, said Vigneron. Brainstorming on evolution of the program is centered on whether or not to reinforce the local dimension with regional chapters, he explained.
There has been discussion about adding an element to address French-speaking countries, or Arabic ones, as well as China or Japan, he said, noting that this would probably increase the number of candidates who might be intimidated by an international-level program. At the same time, the mix of cultures has been an important part of the program.
“What has worked with the community is that women from all around the world, from South America, to Ghana, or Egypt or Iraq, Lebanon, China, India, they get together and they find in all their differences what they share in common and I think that’s a very strong community,” said Vigneron.
The idea of creating a local language chapter, even in a large country, would have different results, so the company is not sure yet how it might proceed. Providing English language lessons is another possibility for supporting potential prize contenders who might not otherwise be able to participate, he added.
Cartier has set up a networking community of young Asian entrepreneurs, second-generation Chinese in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, making “very quickly a very vibrant community,” said Vigneron.
The label recently marked the two-year anniversary of the Red Club, a networking community of entrepreneurs that have a connection to Asia, which was launched in Europe and extended to Russia and Japan this year. It counts 19 members from five countries across industries including fashion, technology and energy. There is a young leader award that serves as a kind of bridge between the paths, one within the same culture and language, and the other linking social enterprise, said Vigneron.
“Maybe we’ll see if the two can have some connection,” he suggested, citing the partnership with Insead and others as key to the exploration of a sort of “hybrid” model, drawing on the women’s initiative. There is a lot of incentive to do more, he said.
“What we’ve seen for the past five years is that those who get laureate or even finalists get so much visibility and credibility. It opens so many doors for them,” he said.
“What we call the ripple effect is that by putting the light on some people, on great young entrepreneurs, in fact gave them a chance to do something much bigger than what they thought initially,” he explained.
The company increased the prize winnings in recent years, which has raised the quality of applicants significantly and helped the companies scale up their businesses more. This year there were 876 applicants from more than 142 countries.
“Most of the projects start with something very personal,” observed Vigneron, citing several examples of how situations of hardship had prompted entrepreneurs to draw up solutions.
“Often young entrepreneurs are faced with a lot of issues of being discouraged by families or by social communities saying, ‘don’t do that, it’s too difficult, too expensive, you’ll never make it,’ and they continue, they don’t give up,” he said. “They’re so determined…these women have so many solutions to so many problems,” he added.