In order to help disadvantaged women reach their potential, you don't need to raise millions, you don't need to reinvent the wheel either. What you need to do is simply provide a successful business model that gives women the access to knowledge and tools they need to succeed. The women will do the rest, writes Assia Riccio, founder of Evolvin' Women
I was raised by a very inspirational woman, my mother, who was forced to leave school at the age of nine. She raised me with the notion that young girls have the right to be educated and become active contributors in their communities.
Over the course of my years as a young adult, I had the opportunity to travel to many places in Africa and visit several foundations that were relentlessly working with governments to provide women with a better chance in life, many of them victims of abuse.
I was privileged to hear their stories, but shocked to find so many instances of a reality my mother had experienced in the 60s. Seeing these cases first-hand, in today’s day and age, was devastating. I could not walk away, I wanted to do something about it.
With the knowledge of an undeniable right that women have had to fight for relentlessly, I set out to do something that I believe is the purpose of my life: to build a model to empower as many women as possible, through programmes of education and skills training.
I was not alone in my belief and goal as I realised that many governments in developing countries were addressing this issue. According to the World Bank, however, the key roadblock to increasing employment opportunities began with the financial and social norms in which a woman undertakes training.
Catching up with skills development in adult life becomes even more challenging, leaving women vulnerable and dependent on men. The likelihood of women who have undergone training attaining successful employment was actually less than a third.
The outcome of this traditional model, without the intervention of private sector support, leaves us with high unemployment rates across the African continent. It has been recorded that only 25 percent of senior management roles in Africa are held by women, and only 5 percent of CEOs are female.
When I started to think more deeply about how to solve this issue, I began seeing that the private sector in more developed nations, such as the UAE, have been addressing their own challenges of increasing social responsibility within businesses. Something then began to click.
When I returned to Dubai, my priority was to work on my business model. I wanted to find a way to address the huge challenges of governments, while simultaneously addressing challenges faced by the private sector, in order to bridge the gap between each of their colossal efforts for the sole purpose of providing women in developing countries crucial access to training and future employment.
To my surprise, the support came through in outpours from all fronts within both the public and private sectors. When I thought I was going to be on my own, I began to share my plan, and major players wanted to jump in.
Fast forward to 2020, and we are up and running at Evolvin’ Women, a for-profit and socially responsible organisation with the overarching goal of generating jobs and income, reducing hunger and poverty and improving the sustainability of livelihoods across Africa’s most disadvantaged communities.
Our business model works by enabling us to partner with governments in developing countries to identify specific communities in rural areas with a high rate of female unemployment, where circumstances have prohibited their access to professional skills development and to full-time job opportunities. We then work closely with the private sector in the UAE as our base incubator for the advancement of these unemployed women.
On a monthly basis we provide women with skills development, mentoring and networking sessions and the opportunity to work on the conceptual development of a social enterprise. Before the end of their placement, we work with our partners in the private sector to facilitate interviews in their home countries to secure a full-time job, equipped to build a brighter future for themselves, their families and communities, despite the challenges they may have faced.
Our initiatives ensure that organisations create a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, strengthen relationships across borders and generate measurable social impact without having to change processes and policies.
In 2018, 11 women enrolled into our programme and had access to international skills development placements in Dubai with a view to securing a job back in their home country at the end of the programme. In 2019, we decided to monitor the programme, expand our network of partners that currently includes Accor, Hilton, Radisson Blu and Ramada and prepare for 100 women to enrol in 2020.
Some of our education partners in the UAE include PwC’s Academy Middle East, providing participants with a range of professional development courses in finance, human resources, leadership and digital skills; Amity University, in which participants have access to a tourism and hospitality professional course and to their incubator centre for social entrepreneurship; Accenture, through their emplea+ skill development platform, we are educating women on digital skills.
We are also represented by Squire Patton Boggs’ Dubai team as our official legal partners.
From 2020, our participants have begun to have access to a space where they can meet and access further development and mentoring opportunities thanks to a partnership with DMCC that provided Evolvin’ Women with an office space next to its headquarters as well as with an official CSR licence.
Currently operating in Ghana and Rwanda with expansion plans in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia in 2020, Evolvin’ Women has been presented as a sustainable tourism initiative at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit by the UN Women, the African Women in Tourism Summit, the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai and at the ChangeNOW Summit in France where Evolvin’ Women was selected by the Dubai government to represent Dubai on the theme of sustainability.
Evolvin’ Women is also supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – quality education, gender equality and decent work; and is one of the first micro-enterprises to become a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and chair the steering committee in the UAE to deliver the seven Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a collaboration between UN Women and the UNGC.
In the words of my inspiring mother, “If you are able to make it work while the odds are against you, this means you have created something that it is not a nice to have but a must have.”