Social enterprises lead the way in supporting female entrepreneurship

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Guilhem Alandry

On occasion, I have to confess, I do find myself thinking is there anything that we don’t have a special awareness day or week for? I don’t object, from National Pie Week to World Smile Day, I’m sure there’s something that resonates with everyone, I just don’t relate equally to them all. As a female social entrepreneur and mum to two girls, one that absolutely does resonate is International Day of The Girl.

Since 2012, 11 October has been marked as the International Day of the Girl. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. This year the theme is With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, to draw attention to the fact that gender bias in employment is still an issue.

I was blown away to discover that by age six, girls have already identified boys as more likely to demonstrate brilliance and more suited to smart activities than their own gender. I was a little less surprised to find out that in large parts of the world, young women are still more likely to be unemployed than men.

Why less surprised on the latter? I’ve spent the last nine years leading a social enterprise called Belu Water, a business that supplies mineral water in bottles and filtration systems to the UK’s restaurants and hotels. But what makes Belu different is our passion to be the best from an environmental perspective, and to pass 100% of our profits to WaterAid. In other words, we are a Social Enterprise using business as a force for good and when our profits go to WaterAid, they in turn transform lives through clean water and decent toilets.

Whilst the whole community benefits from improved health and mortality, it’s the lives of girls and women that are affected most by this intervention. With clean water close to home, girls and women no longer have to walk long distances for unsafe water. And with decent toilets and menstrual hygiene facilities installed in schools, girls are able to continue their education. 

International Day of the Girl falls two days before another awareness day – Social Saturday, a day to promote social enterprises. I’m proud to see that social enterprises are leading the way in tackling inequalities, with 41% run by women, and 51% having a majority female workforce. Take Ruth (pictured above, left). With support from WaterAid, Ruth has developed a successful soap-making and shea-butter cooperative, which she runs with a group of thirty women from the village. They are showing traditional businesses how social impact and profit can go hand in hand.

Female entrepreneurialism has the potential to empower girls and women to ensure an equal society that will be more prosperous for everyone.

For Belu, our focus is clean water. Just seven-like minded folks work together to deliver funds to WaterAid (£1 million this year!) and help reach the millions of girls who still don’t have access to this basic resource.

Karen Lynch, CEO of Belu, in Bongolava, Madagascar, September 2017.
Image: WaterAid/Sam James

Another social enterprise I’m inspired by is ‘Hey Girls’, founded by Celia Hodson, not just because of her sassy brand and personal style gain traction in the competitive sector of sanitary items, but because of the shocking statistics on period poverty in the UK. One in ten young women in the UK struggle to afford pads or tampons, causing many girls to miss school every single month.

Businesses also can, and are, making an impact. For example, Kirstie Sherriff from beauty brand Pinks, was motivated to develop her business wanting to help women be kinder to their own bodies through the development of her organic spa range. I personally love how she is using the experience gained here to be charging into the men’s grooming market with new brand Proverb, because she’s clearly confident her experience will give an advantage in the still developing ‘male beauty’ world.

All entrepreneurs and businesses could choose to contribute to this empowerment by addressing social problems, including those affecting women and girls, through a better way of doing business. This might be a small internal initiative like choosing an ethical product for your company’s bathrooms or board rooms, developing a bespoke not for profit product line (like Kirstie’s latest exciting new product development) launched within an existing product range, or a perhaps you’re a budding social entrepreneur ready to launch your own Social enterprise like Belu and Hey Girls.

At Belu, International Day of the Girl is another reason for us to stay focussed on our mission of getting clean water and toilets to girls and everyone everywhere. What could you do with your business?