Female entrepreneurial drive has no boundaries
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Female entrepreneurial drive has no boundaries

Pushing a business forward requires courage, vision, and an overwhelming desire to change the world around you. In fact, marrying profit-seeking with social purpose can often help your business and make it more sustainable. We asked some female entrepreneurs from around the world what drives them and how purpose has helped them build successful businesses. 

Deepanjali, Ana Isabel, Nthabiseng, Aisa, and Kathy all had fulfilling careers; but one day they decided that it was not enough. They swapped their comfortable routine for the challenge of developing products and services that make the lives of women, or society at large, in their home countries easier and safer.

Few women in India can afford to buy feminine hygiene products. That fact has serious consequences that extend beyond hygiene. According to a study by the NGO Plan International, 20 percent of girls drop out of school as soon as they get their first period. To combat that, Deepanjali Kanoria developed inexpensive, sustainable sanitary pads made of bamboo fibers. Soon her company will be selling 448 million pads per year. At a price of EUR 0.15 per pad, annual sales would total up to EUR 67 million – and many more girls will stay in school.

Meanwhile in Mexico, it was impossible for economist Ana Isabel Orvañanos to accept the situation of domestic workers in her country. More than two million of them earn less than USD 9 dollars a day and most of them work off the books, without access to health insurance or social security. To resolve this deplorable state of affairs, Ana Isabel launched Aliada. This online platform connects independent cleaners with customers, pays their social insurance contributions, and grants microloans. All registered users must have a bank account and pay taxes. "With Aliada, women can triple their incomes," says Orvañanos.

Lighting the developing world

Many businesswomen deliver solutions for women. After all, they know their customers' needs best. But it would be foolish to assume that female entrepreneurial spirit stops there. Meet Nthabiseng and Aisa who have both tackled one of the major problems in developing countries – the lack of electricity.

In the West African country of Sierra Leone, barely one percent of the rural population has access to electricity. That is why Nthabiseng Mosia founded Easy Solar. The company finances and leases inexpensive solar installations on a pay-as-you-go basis. Easy Solar has already supplied more than 75,000 people in Sierra Leone with electricity.

Aisa Mijeno got her idea on a visit to a Philippine mountain village. "The people there had no electricity and had to walk 12 hours to get kerosene for their lamps," explains Mijeno, an engineering professor. With her start-up, SALt, she has been developing lamps that run on salt water instead of expensive, environmentally harmful oil. A single glass of water from the ocean is enough to light a room for eight hours. SALt has just begun mass producing the lamps and plans to manufacture 200,000 lamps this year.

Sustainability in the developed world

In another part of the world, in the US, Kathy Hannun wants to change the habits of 31 million homeowners who still use oil to heat and cool their homes. Hannun co-developed a geothermal energy system at X, Google's research and development lab, and has made it ready for the market. In 2017, she founded Dandelion Energy and became its CEO. "We want to bring geothermal into the mainstream," says Hannun. A Dandelion system costs half as much as a conventional geothermal installation and, according to Hannun, reduces energy costs by more than 60 percent.

Our business champions come from different countries and have different backgrounds, but they all share the ambition to drive change. And what has stemmed from this ambition benefits everybody, society and the entrepreneurs alike. This space allows us to highlight only a few inspirational ladies but we'd like to honor them all and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.