We are extremely pleased to announce that the 2014 Finalists of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards have been announced, including 3 talented women from Africa!

With 15 different countries represented from all continents and the largest pool of applications in the history of the awards, this year’s event promises to shed light on impressive new entrepreneurship initiatives that have created ethical, sustainable, and scalable solutions to pressing social challenges.

Winnifred Selby

         Winnifred SelbyGhana (AFROCENTRIC BAMBOO, bicycles made with bamboo frames)

The concept of bamboo bicycles is not new: ‘The Bamboo Cycle Co. started making them in England in 1894,’ Winnie explains, ‘but they did not really catch on again until 2005, when the concept was revived by Craig Calfee.’ Calfee is the visionary designer who first made bicycles out of carbon fibre and who has championed bamboo bikes in the US, where Afrocentric Bamboo bikes are distributed today, in a high-end version that retails for US$300. ‘It’s a competitive price and we have a waiting list of 4,000 bikes to supply. We are helped with parts and distribution by Bikes for Africa, a non-profit organisation,’ says Winnie, who ensures that for every high-end bike sold, Afrocentric Bamboo subsidises the price of a local bike to a farmer or schoolchild.

Winnie is a born entrepreneur, driven by necessity. Her mother is a single parent who struggled to make ends meet. ‘At the age of six I started selling toffee to my schoolmates, and later I went street hawking in my free time to help pay the school fees.’ Today she dedicates herself to the economic empowerment of youngsters and women in Ghana. She knows the challenge of being young and female ‘in a cultural context where age and gender impact on social status,’ and remembers the reaction when she incorporated her business. ‘The officials told me to focus on higher education and a “good career”. When one saw I was creating a business to make bamboo bike frames, he asked whether I had “the right frame of mind!”

Amy de Castro

Amy de Castro, South Africa (BAMBOO REVOLUTION, Bamboo watch designs)

Bamboo Revolution was born out of a project Amy Castro completed for a postgrad degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town. Amy, 24, worked with a team of five other students who were inspired by the sustainability of bamboo. ‘We wanted to come up with a bamboo product that had the potential to become fashionable.’ After considering several ideas, the group decided to focus on bamboo watches.

They created a beautifully simple design, had the face and movement produced in China – ‘nobody makes watch movements in South Africa!’ – sourced the straps locally, assembled the watch themselves and launched it on campus in August 2012, selling 100 watches in the first five hours. Her postgrad completed, Amy was enthusiastic about transforming the project into a business. She made it her full-time concern and eventually bought out her partners to become sole owner of Bamboo Revolution in February 2013. Within two months, she was making a profit.

Bamboo Revolution aims to alter consumers’ perceptions by persuading them that eco-conscious, sustainable fashion can be beautiful and stylish

Achenyo Idachaba

Achenyo IdachabaNigeria (MITIMETH, homewear and accessories woven from aquatic weeds)

MitiMeth produces home and personal accessories made from invasive aquatic weeds that flourish in Nigeria’s waterways. ‘We are all about transforming an environmental problem into a beneficial solution,’ says Achenyo. ‘As a social enterprise that exclusively engages people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, we asked how we can clean up the waterways for river-lying communities, while also empowering them economically.’

Aquatic weeds such as the water hyacinth, which MitiMeth uses, pose a major challenge to local communities and have been a target of government initiatives to stem the damage they cause for some years. Their extensive, knotted root systems tangle together – ‘they almost weave themselves!’ says Achenyo – and clog waterways, which are a key transportation network to inland populations. They also deplete nutritional resources in their surroundings, leading to a drop in the fish population, which impacts food supplies and livelihoods for riparian communities, who are reliant on fishing.

Achenyo hit upon the idea through research she undertook, which showed that communities in southeast Asia afflicted by the water hyacinth had harvested the weed and transformed it through weaving into marketable products. ‘I thought to myself, this can be done here in Nigeria.’ Visiting a community in the city of Ibadan, she befriended a couple of artisans who had experience in weaving doum palm and rattan. She worked with them to develop the company’s first products – a table tidy and a wastebasket: two fitting products to make from a tangled weed!

The DECO team commends you and wish you all best for the future.