Even as a young girl growing up in the Philippines, Carmina Bayombong was aware of how painfully difficult it was for children from poor families to go to university.
Banks would not give them study loans because they didn’t have credit scoring and their parents had no fixed income.
Bayombong’s parents, who struggled to put themselves through university, had set up a cooperative in their village to provide education loans for disadvantaged children.
“At first, I didn’t understand why my parents would lend money to people they didn’t know. They explained that the loans gave people opportunities.
“I still didn’t really get it until I was in university and saw many of my friends drop out because they couldn’t afford the fees or were failing as they were too tired from working part time to fund their education.
“It costs about US$1,200 (RM5,000) a year to go to university in the Philippines but it is almost impossible for students to get funding. I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult … why do students have to jump through so many hoops to get an education,” shares Bayombong.
So, the industrial engineering graduate decided to set up InvestEd, an online education loan platform for undergraduates in Dec 2016.
In a little over two years, InvestEd has become the Philippines’ leading provider of education loans and boasts a 100% repayment rate.
“InvestEd matches lenders with students dreamers – that’s what we call our borrowers. We make it less risky for lenders and also for our students whose lives are basically at risk if they don’t get an education,” she explains.
InvestEd has helped over 300 students go to university and their graduates are employed an average of 27 days upon graduating.
“That’s higher than the national average of 130 days!” says Bayombong, with pride. “Our students don’t see us as a company but more as an elder sibling: if they have problems repaying their loan, they’d come to us and we’d work out a solution. We include our student dreamers in our organisation.
“All our graduates go on to mentor our undergraduates and that is really a beautiful thing because having a mentor who comes from the same background is priceless.
“About 41% of our borrowers are the first in their families to go to univeristies. They are their families’ golden ticket our of poverty and that’s really the end goal we want,” she explains.
Earlier this month, Bayombong won the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award at a ceremony at the Fort Mason Centre for Arts and Culture in San Francisco, the United States that was attended by, among others, Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’O and award-winning journalist Maria Shriver.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, which was incepted in 2006 by luxury brand Cartier and Insead Business School, recognises women entrepreneurs around the world with businesses that have a tangible social impact.
Bayombong was chosen as the laureate for South Asia and Ocenia and was one of seven women to receive the award which comes with a cash prize of US$100,000 (RM420,000), a scholarship to attend the Insead social entrepreneurship executive education programme as well as business mentoring and coaching for a year to support the further growth of their businesses.
Bayombong, who was one of three finalists from South Asia and Oceania, was thrilled to be chosen as a laureate.
“I can’t believe it!,” said the ebullient 26-year-old after the ceremony. “The prize money will help thousands of Filipinos achieve their dreams of becoming college graduates. I am so happy.”
A ripple effect
Since its inception 13 years ago, 77 women from 51 countries have been recognised as laureates. This year, close to 2,900 women business owners from 142 countries in seven regions applied for the Award.
The theme for this year’s award was “The Ripple Effect”, recognising entrepreneurs who serve as a catalyst for change and growth within their communities and the broader society.
From the thousands of applications, 21 finalists (three from each region) were selected and flown to San Francisco where they spent a week receiving personal coaching on their business models. The guidance given was to such minute detail as the intonation and language they need to use when pitching their business.
They then had to deliver their final presentations to a panel of 35 judges from around the world before the seven laureates (one from each region) were chosen.
The other laureates this year are Yeon Jeong Cho of South Korea (Far East Asia) for her business, Say Global, an online language service that trains retired seniors in Korea as tutors for Korean language learners worldwide; Zineb Agoumi of France (Europe) for EzyGain, an affordable rehabilitation device that helps prevents falls among seniors and patients with mobility issues; Liza Velarde of Mexico (Latin America) for Delee, a blood test that enables physicians to better monitor the progress of cancer; Hibah Shata of the United Arab Emirates (Middle East and North Africa) for Maharat Learning Center that offers behavioral therapy and educational support for children and young adults with special needs; Ran Ma from the US (North America) for Siren which produces smart socks with microsensors that can monitor foot temperature to help prevent amputations among diabetics; and Manka Angwafo of Cameroon for Grassland Cameroon Ltd, that provides asset-based financing for smallholder farmers in Cameroon.
The other 14 finalists were rewarded with US$30,000 (RM126,000) each for their businesses.
They also have networking opportunities and coaching from Insead. In total, US$1.1mil (RM4.6mil) was awarded to the finalists and all 21 entrepreneurs had opportunities to meet impact investors, angel networks, incubators, NGOs, schools and women’s business clubs to expand their networks.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative, says the president and CEO of Cartier International, Cyrille Vigneron reflects on the company’s commitment to supporting women.
“The Cartier Women’s Initiative is to encourage inspirational women entrepreneurs around the world to solve contemporary global challenges.
“We do that by supporting and recognising creative women who are making concrete contributions to finding solutions for the future of our planet and by bringing these business solutions to the largest audience possible
“The Cartier Women’s Initiative reiterates our commitment to women entrepreneurs as well as our ambition to empower them to speak up and reveal their ideas.
“Their curiosity, audacity and openness mirror the values that are deeply anchored in the culture of our maison. By showing us at which point the world is diverse, this community of conquerors inspires us to go even further in supporting them to make their dreams true and make our world better,” he said at the ceremony. A network of women
The one thing that stood out about the Cartier initiative was the camaraderie among the 21 finalists. Although they were each vying for the win and the generous prize money that came with it, the women formed strong bonds with each other in the one week they were in San Francisco.
“This initiative really means a lot,” says finalist Pimenta from Brazil, the co-founder of Vittude, an online mental health platform that connects psychologists with patients seeking therapy for stress, anxiety or depression.
“The money would mean the world to Vittude because it is so
difficult to fundraise in Brazil. People are poor in Brazil and companies that succeed are bringing money from outside Brazil. I have never been fortunate enough to go outside of Brazil to fundraise so this initiative has really opened doors for Vittude.
“I did not win but tomorrow, I will be meeting about 60 investors and I will have the chance to talk about my project and that is really unbelievable. I am happy that Liza (the winner from Latin America) won because she and all the other women here are really doing such important work.
“I got to meet some really inspiring women and learn about their challenges. We are all so diverse and I am inspired by their stories. And, the US$30,000 that I did win means that I will get to help more people,” says Pimenta.
For Hibah Shata, the laureate from the Middle East and North Africa, the Cartier Women’s Initiative is distinguished by its emphasis on the impact of businesses on society.
“This isn’t like any other corporate social responsibility programme. This is about social impact. It is transformative. Nobody in the corporate world talks about social impact, really.
“This initiative made me think about how I can be more impactful and add value to my programmes. It transformed the way I think.
“And it also connected me with all these fantastic women and I felt that I am not alone. There are so many people going through what I am going through.
“As women, we often doubt our skills and ourselves. We demand a lot from ourselves; we want to be perfect, we don’t want to make mistakes our team look up to us and expect us to have all the answers.
“So even if we are freaking out, we have to be composed. It can be very lonely and frustrating. But here, I met so many women who are going through the same challenges. It has been empowering,” says Shata, a dentist, who started two medical centres and a learning centre for children with special needs because she couldn’t find a school to enrol her autistic daughter, Sarah.
Today, Sarah is 13, and speaks two languages and plays the piano.
The awards ceremony at the Fort Mason Center was not just a celebration of the seven winners but of the 21 finalists and the many other women entrepreneurs in the world who run businesses that have a positive impact on their communities.
The celebration, held in partnership with TED, also included specially curated talks by women innovators and creators around the world to inspire dialogue about the power of entrepreneurship to change the world.
There were talks by microbiologist Karen Lloyd, urban landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom from Thailand, social worker and founder of Bodhi Tree Foundation Ashweetha Shetty from India and the artistic duo behind Climbing PoeTree, Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman who entertained the crowd with their powerful spoken word poetry.
There was also a panel discussion with Shriver and Nyong’O, both of whom shared how they strive to work within their industries to bring change for women.
But, clearly, the night belonged to the women entrepreneurs whose ideas have changed their communities.
“And that is the idea behind this year’s theme. The Ripple Effect celebrates how small actions can ricochet off other small actions to produce sweeping change,” says Vigneron, pledging to make next year’s awards even more impactful.
Malaysian women entrepreneurs: If you have a newly launched business or startup that has social impact, you are eligible to apply for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award. Applications for the 2020 edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award will open on June 11, 2019 and close on August 14.
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