Antonella Notari Vischer, Director of Geneva-based philanthropic organisation, The Womanity Foundation, in an interview to OneWorld South Asia, said that a lot of work needs to be done in India for women’s empowerment. Excerpts from the interview.
OneWorld South Asia: Tell us about the WomenChangeMakers’ (WCM) Fellowship programme?
Antonella Notari Vischer: The WomenChangeMakers programme was started in 2010, just after I joined the Womanity Foundation.
The programme was started after conducting a global research about the needs of social entrepreneurs for scaling up their projects. This research showed that more than the monetary support, the social entrepreneurs need professional support by experts from various fields like business strategies and communication, IT and human resource.
After this assessment, we decided to roll out this programme in Brazil and India for supporting social entrepreneurs who head established, successful organisations that work for women’s empowerment and also address systemic gender inequalities.
After a rigorous selection process, we would select two fellows from India for a period of three years.
Vischer: Both Brazil and India have a great culture of social entrepreneurship with the presence of really good social entrepreneurs. Secondly, we wanted to focus on the development of women and there is a lot of work to be done on women’s empowerment, both in India and Brazil.
Moreover, both the countries are populous and big enough where the programmes could be scaled up to significant heights for creating deep impact at the grassroots.
OWSA: How do you ascertain the depth of the programmes you select to support for scaling up?
Vischer: Our support comes with a precondition that the entrepreneurs should work for women. Their programmes should essentially lead to women’s empowerment by providing them access to education, jobs, health or their participation in the society.
Moreover, we support only those entrepreneurs who have already proven their model by showcasing that what they are doing is ready to be scaled up. These entrepreneurs should also be willing to work with the corporate partners and experts who would help them in scaling up their programmes.
OWSA: How sustainable do you think is the model of creating corporate-social partnerships for women’s empowerment?
Vischer: Corporate partners have the expertise which can help the social entrepreneurs to grow their organisation. The corporate world can help social entrepreneurs in dealing with various issues like capacity building, funding model and business strategy for scaling up their initiatives.
It is sustainable because a large number of corporations want to make meaningful contribution to social development. The corporate partners also have a sense of satisfaction for contributing to the society at large.
OWSA: Why do you support only those entrepreneurs who work for women when there are other pressing issues too?
Vischer: A lot of research by the World Bank and the UN shows that when you invest in women you get greater returns on your investment.
We decided that focusing on women was one way to invest in community’s development. Children of an educated woman with some revenues are going to be better educated and healthier.
OWSA: What kind of change do you expect your initiative to bring in a huge country like India?
Vischer: We don’t have the arrogance to claim that we would change India. We won’t change India on our own. What we are trying to show is that there can be a model for social activists and corporate partners to actually make that desired change.
We are trying to create equal opportunities for both men and women. If you don’t invest in women, who constitute half the population, you leave a huge resource untapped.
OWSA: Tell us about your initiatives in Afghanistan?
Vischer: Access to education for women is the biggest challenge in Afghanistan. Women have been largely excluded from education during the Taliban regime.
We are working to build capacity in terms of teachers and infrastructure in schools.