WOMEN’S FORUM SPECIAL REPORTS
An ongoing series of articles highlighting upcoming topics and topical outcomes from Women’s Forum events around the world
Looking for New Business Models
Part 4: Women in the Sharing and Digital Economy
For this last Special Report on “Looking for New Business Models,” let’s focus on what has been called the “New Economy”. Over the last decade and since the first Women’s Forum Global Meeting in 2005, we have taken note of the obstacles that prevent women from advancing to higher positions even when they have the same qualifications or diplomas as men. At the same time, we have noticed women who, rather than butt up against those obstacles, decide to launch a start-up and create their own company, with the stated ambition of benefitting not only the women who have been excluded from the workforce but entire communities.
Usually when we talk about New Economy successes we think of Airbnb or Uber, which both began in North America — Silicon Valley to be exact – and which helped give rise to another catchall and largely misleading label, “Sharing Economy”. For our purposes today, however, let’s shift our attention to another continent, to two African business endeavors that are good examples of what women can do and what can genuinely be shared when they take the New Economy on their own terms.
Since the Women’s Forum began we have celebrated women who make an impact on their community and make a difference to people’s lives. Each year during the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, France, we host two programs that encourage and support the business endeavors of women, many of whom are just entering the workforce: the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and the Women’s Forum Rising Talents. The stories of the participants are always fascinating and frequently inspiring.
Jife Williams is a young Nigerian woman and one of the winners at the 2009 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. The previous year she had created MN Environmental Services, with the goal of building and providing working washrooms and toilets to the poorest segments of Nigeria’s population. “When I returned to Lagos from Angola in 2000, I noticed that nothing was working,” Ms. Williams explained. “’My friends and I spent our time complaining about how the standards of living and services were going downhill. One day, I thought, ‘Instead of sitting around complaining, why don’t we do something?’”
Sanitation is a serious issue in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. According to a UNICEF study, 70% of people in Lagos do not have access to working toilets. MN Environmental Services, working with local governments (who made land available), set out to build 57 sanitation facilities in Lagos state by 2014.
Women are likely to suffer more from a lack of proper sanitation than are men. In Nigeria public washrooms and toilets are scarce, and facilities that exist tend to be poorly maintained. Many Nigerian women spend the entire day working at open markets. The lack of toilets and washing facilities available to them can have dire health consequences. As Ms. Williams pointed out, “It’s not only about building toilets and showers, but about educating people on the need to change their habits.”
It’s easy to imagine how Jife Williams’ story could inspire women – or anyone, for that matter – to make the leap and make change happen instead of waiting for change to happens all by itself. And that’s precisely what the Sharing Economy is (or should be) all about.
Mariéme Jamme is most widely known for fighting on behalf of bringing new technologies to Africa. She was one of 16 Rising Talents at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in 2013, and the following year she was named as one of the 100 most influential Africans of 2014 by Africa Business Magazine and Forbes. Ms. Jamme grew up in rural Senegal, raised in an orphanage and then sold as a prostitute. She did not attend school until the age of 16 years old. She went on to become a blogger and an education activist, and founded Spotone Global Solutions, a technology consultancy business in London, to help enterprise software makers open new markets in Africa. Among the other startups seeking to empower her fellow Africans, Mariéme Jamme launched a mentoring and business accelerator, and a platform to bring entrepreneurs and others together to share ideas for positive change in Africa.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created in 2006 by Cartier, the Women's Forum, McKinsey & Company and INSEAD business school, supports and encourages projects by women entrepreneurs.
The Rising Talents initiative aims to distinguish highly talented young women under the age of 40 who are on their way to becoming influential figures in our economies and societies. This initiative is a commitment to promote women leaders and bring the vision of rising generations to the Women’s Forum.