By Nicole Etchart
Thirty six years have passed since the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to mark March 8 as a day to celebrate women and world peace. The establishment of this day was the culmination of similar national celebrations that began in the United States in 1909 and later spread to other countries.
Little did world leaders know about what the world would look like 36 years from that date,but I would not be surprised if they never imagined the tremendous advances that have been made with regard to women’s rights.
In time, science, politics and the economy have corrected historical errs on the part of governments and societies all over the world. Today, gender discrimination, societal exclusion and unfair cultural practices are condemned much more than ever before. Proudly, in these transformations for good, the social enterprise movement has had a significant role to play and has delivered impressive results.
Since its beginnings, social enterprises have provided an avenue for women leaders to solve problems affecting themselves and their communities. As former President Michelle Bachelet said in her address at the 2012 Social Enterprise World Forum organized by NESsT in Rio de Janeiro, “women are natural social entrepreneurs.” It is precisely this natural ability that women have to solve problems thinking on those around them that has been properly strengthened by the social enterprises.
Women in social enterprise have been able to address many of the most prevalent and challenging social issues that affect them, their communities and their children worldwide. Here at NESsT, we are no strangers to this reality and have seen it unfold before our eyes. We are incredibly proud to look back in our 15 years and see how many social enterprises tackling these pressing gender issues we have supported.
A closer look at our current portfolio will reveal how women tend to be one of the driving forces behind social enterprises. In Brazil, NESsT supports an organization called Uniao de Mulheres that created a social enterprise called “Voluntourism”, which provides tourists with meaningful opportunities to volunteer and accommodation. Profits from this social enterprise help Uniao de Mulheres run a daycare service for young mothers and after school care for youth in one of Rio’s largest favela.
In Chile, we support a cooperative of Lavkenche indigenous women called Relmu Witral, which produces woven products that foster the cultural heritage of the Lavkenche (a minority indigenous group with little representation and access to basic services), attracting tourists from around the world who wish to purchase their beautiful and high-quality traditional products. The cooperative provides a business platform from which women can sell their products at fair prices, thus providing them with a sustainable income.
In Peru, we support AGTR (Asociacion Grupo de Trabajo Redes), which operates an employment agency for domestic workers called “La Casa de Panchita”. The social enterprise trains beneficiaries in all aspects of domestic work, from basic cleaning to
child and elderly care. It then places these highly skilled workers in formal and dignified employment opportunities which in turn, generate revenues for the organization to further their social mission (to defend the rights of domestic workers and prevent child domestic work; to empower workers to protect and defend their rights).
In Croatia, we support Roda, which designs and markets a line of trendy and easy-to-use cloth diapers and accessories, delivering clients health, environmental and social value through an eco-friendly, affordable and high-quality alternative to disposable diapers. Roda is an organization seeking to bring about wide-spread change in Croatian maternal care and increase parental involvement in children’s lives through education, political advocacy, and active awareness campaigns and to promote a society with more responsible attitudes towards children, future parents and families.
The list could go on and on if we begin to analize former portfolio members, organizations that NESsT has assisted through NESsT Consulting and the countless examples of social enterprises founded and run by women today. One of our exits, Templanza provides counseling services to women victims of domestic violence through a tiered fee structure. Today it is totally sustainable as it serves 300-400 women per month. In a country where domestic violence transcends across socioeconomic sectors and over 50% of women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, this is a significant contribution.
An important aspect of social enterprises today is that many of them are led by women who realize the importance of bringing rigor to the social sector – and ensuring that it becomes sustainable.
Here I am referring to women such as Tanya Andrade, the founder of a Brazilian social enterprise called Incores, which has helped thousands of at-risk youth in Bahia. I also refer also to Andrea Meszaros, a social enterprise leader who launched one of the most successful restaurants employing people with disabilities in Europe. I refer to Rebecca Mackinnon, who co-founded Global Voices Online, a non-profit media organization with equal participation from women that fosters freedom of expression by curating and amplifying online conversations that happen around the world.
These are visionaries from the non-profit and for-profit sectors with strong leadership skills that have made the world a better place through social enterprise or through visionary ideas with strong business models.
In October, 2012, I had the pleasure of presenting Gabriela Leite with the prestigious NESsT WISE Award 2012 - Women in Social Enterprise for her work supporting and protecting the rights of sex workers. It is my hope, and that of the entire team I represent, that we can keep awarding thousands of WISE awards in the years to come.