Amal Clooney Honors Cartier Women’s Initiative Winners

PARIS — After traveling the world with ceremonies in Dubai, San Francisco and Singapore, the Cartier Women’s Initiative returned home to Paris with a gala ceremony Tuesday night.

Amal Clooney, who joined the brand as the inaugural contributor of Cartier Voices in March, praised Cartier’s support of women-led initiatives, which are traditionally underfunded, she said, particularly in a time when women’s rights are in retreat around the world.

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“This is a worthy area of focus. Whether you believe in human rights or just prosperity, it is a good idea to try to unshackle half of the population of the world,” Clooney said, speaking from the stage in a sparkling white gown.

Cartier president and chief executive officer Cyrille Vigneron compared the company’s world of luxury and creating beautiful objects to creating beauty in the world at large. “As a company, we therefore have a responsibility to contribute to making this world better, more generous and more equal,” he said. “As part of our contribution, we see it as crucial to provide continuous support to individuals whose mission is to leverage business as a force for good.”

Clooney is cofounder and copresident, along with her husband George, of the Clooney Foundation for Justice and brought members of the audience to tears as she recounted several harrowing stories of her work on cases of access to education; discrimination; sexual abuse, and torture in Tanzania, Malawi, Sudan and Iraq.

“For me, waging justice means trying to change the system, one case at a time,” she said. “[The honorees] are all people changing the system, one project at a time.

“These women are citizens of the world who will get into the media, and fight for a better future. I see them as evidence of change,” she added of the winners, who have initiatives in issues ranging from food security to mental health.

Multihyphenate actresses Yara Shahidi and Mélanie Laurent, who also produce and direct, took to the stage in conversation.

Shahidi said as a young actress in the spotlight she feels compelled to use her platform to raise awareness about environmental and social justice.

“It’s beautiful to be able to share some of the experiences as an actor and the doors that it opens, but it can feel quite trivial, it can feel quite silly when you’re sitting there, the world is burning, and you’re posing for pictures,” she said of searching for purpose.

She launched her own production company, Onyx Collective, to bring new voices into the global dialogue, she said. She hopes to get young people engaged in social and environmental issues.

“I think it’s easy to be 23 and to feel so hopeless. And I think because of that, rather than committing and caring, we’ve chosen to be as distant as possible at times from these issues,” she said. She said, though, that people must continue even if issues seem too large to tackle.

A visibly nervous Laurent said being with the winners made her feel a bit shy because of their tenacity. Laurent reflected on her 2015 environmental documentary, “Demain” (“Tomorrow”), and added that she feels quite hopeless about the slow pace of change and progress nearly a decade on from that film.

“I’m just waiting for the world to be led by women only,” she joked of her hope for the future. To that end, she is working with Cartier on their “Women’s Pavilion” at the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan, which will be a creative tribute to mothers and Mother Nature, she said.

Vigneron took to the stage with Cannes Jury Prize winner Nadine Labaki, and the two discussed the power of film and connecting storytelling to the sometimes abstract concepts and statistics of human rights.

Vigneron also addressed the crowd about why Cartier supports this initiative. He noted that he is a father of three girls. “So I’m a feminist — not saying that feminism is a fight, or a trade war where someone has to lose and someone has to win. It’s something we all have to win, men and women together.

“For more than 5,000 years, the dominant leaders have been men. Men have ruled the world, designed the law and so forth, and seeing how bad it’s going, it’s high time we change, right?” he joked.

The executive said the women’s initiative is designed to build a community and cooperation across industries from the laureates over the years.

Cyrille Vigneron, Amal Clooney and the 2023 Cartier Women’s Initiative winners.
Cyrille Vigneron, Amal Clooney and the 2023 Cartier Women’s Initiative winners.

To that end, the fellows talked up their initiative in powerful and poised speeches. The honorees receive receive mentorship, financial and presentation coaching through the initiative.

The program launched its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion award, and a Science & Technology Pioneer Award this year.

The 11 first-place award winners included Dupe Killa-Kafidipe, whose Platinum Fisheries creates food security on sustainable fish farming practices; Woori Moon, whose 40FY uses AI to provide customized mental health support, and Iva Gumnishka, whose Humans in the Loop employs conflict-displaced people.

Other honorees included IRIBA Water Group’s Yvette Ishimwe, whose company is focused on safe water access across Africa; Panty’s Emily Ewell, who is helping to transform the feminine care sector in Latin America, and PraxiLabs’ Khadija El-Bedweihy, which makes virtual labs available to schools in the Middle East and North Africa.

From North America, Wendy Owens from Hexas Biomass was honored for her work in producing sustainable materials to replace wood and fossil-fuel based materials. Ingrid Sealy from Teach Well was honored for improving educational support and training for teachers in Australia, and Denica Riadini-Flesch from SukkhaCitta was honored for her program employing rural Indonesian artisans to produce handcrafted clothing from sustainable organic cotton in Indonesia.

The Science & Technology Pioneer Award honored Poulami Chaudhuri’s Helex, which focuses on gene editing, while the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award went to CISE’s Blake Van Putten, whose apparel line celebrates Black communities and organizations. He was one of two men honored, the first time the initiative has done so.

All in all, 32 winners joined the women’s initiative’s ranks as fellows.

Since its inception in 2006, the Cartier Women’s Initiative has supported more than 330 impact entrepreneurs from nearly 70 countries who are working to solve global challenges through sustainable social and environmental impact. Each year, Cartier grants more than $2 million in funding, and has awarded more than $9.5 million dollars in funding to finance each entrepreneur’s mission-driven business.

“This ever-growing community is a living proof that, by pooling our efforts together, it is possible to tackle real global issues such as gender inequality and drive change in our society, redefining the future for generations to come,” Vigneron told WWD. “We are thrilled to celebrate the 16th edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative, to amplify the success of these change-makers and allow them to reach new heights.”

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