Photo credit: @Ogunte
W4 was thrilled to speak to Servane Mouazan, Founder and Director of Ogunte, a groundbreaking organisation that connects, supports and empowers female entrepreneurs across Europe to create positive social change.
What inspired you to found Ogunte? The focus was not initially on women entrepreneurs; how did the organization evolve to become a champion for women change-makers?
Photo credit: Amandaclarkephotography.com
Ogunte was established in 2001, born out of my strong interest in creating social change through activism and establishing meaningful dialogue among community leaders from various countries (France, Brazil, Kenya). We were united by the knowledge that to make change you need to put your head above the parapet, break silos, and act with the future in mind.
I didn’t know then how I could implement all these ideas, but I knew for sure that I had to create a space in which to experiment and grow a network of like-minded people.
The focus on women came later, when I realized that the people attending most of our workshops, events and conversations were mainly women social entrepreneurs. They were at the nexus of many worlds, aligning their social purposes with the need to create sustainable models for their organisations and for themselves too. They wanted to be in charge, not relegated to the back seat and patted on the head. We realized that no specific forum existed at that time for women social entrepreneurs in Europe. So we stepped in to establish this space where women from different sectors could join in a common conversation and learn from their peers, while developing their social enterprises.
Personally, this passion for female entrepreneurship evolved from a combination of things in my life: realising my early wish to stand on my own two feet as an activist; wanting to salute my mother for being a strong single parent; and wanting to prove that the masculine narrative as it has always been told means that we are losing out on extraordinary talent.
At W4 we share your passion for women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. How does Ogunte support women entrepreneurs and increase their capacity to create positive change in the world?
There are two big circles in the Venn diagram of our organisations! On one hand, we believe that what others label as “women’s issues” need to be looked at as broad structural issues that have an impact on everyone, now and in the future. To achieve this, we work on the gender lens campaign, encouraging people to think about what the world will look like when women are respected and valued as contributors, leaders, and catalysts for change.
On the other hand, we work with women on the direct impact they have in society, specifically through their social ventures or their contributions as support providers and investors. We advise women on their networking strategies, we incubate businesses, and we connect them to relevant stakeholders. We create learning spaces where they can experiment, create prototypes and constructively fail. We remind them that they shouldn’t apologize for good work and that they should be more ambitious. A lot of personal development work is involved.
So far, we have worked with 5,000 women social entrepreneurs. These women benefit from many changes in their lives at work and beyond: an increased sense of connectedness; greater visibility; improved social leadership; growth of confidence; and an enhanced sense of learning. These changes may sometimes appear small, but at the individual level they feel like phenomenal shifts. Participants tell us that they find clarity, momentum, liberation, and strength in the face of challenges. One woman expressed the feelings of many others when she reflected: “I made a great discovery about my core values in life and how they guide me and my happiness.”
Projecting the impact of this work on personal development, we recently advised and produced the UK part of the WeStart Project, which is mapping women social entrepreneurs in Europe. This initiative will provide insights and stories from women that will influence policy at European level.
Photo credit: @Ogunte
How do you encourage men to invest in and support women entrepreneurs, campaigners and innovators?
Men turn up without having to be persuaded! Our ethos is not to separate our work from their interests. We talk about social and environmental change from a leadership point of view. We invite men to focus on a bias-free world, not a divisive narrative. We talk about how women can help them, how men can benefit from our learning, and how together we have a much more interesting world. The point is to encourage everyone to build an economy of connectedness, not an economy of loneliness.
How can individuals, organisations and companies support Ogunte and women entrepreneurs?
We are building a global map of one million women social entrepreneurs, inviting these women to join the movement and pin their social business on the map. Companies can connect with us to support local chapters of women social entrepreneurs and collaborate with them. And institutions, corporate foundations, support providers and investors can benefit from our knowledge of this community. We can help them to build robust ecosystems that include talented women social entrepreneurs. Ultimately, when you contribute to building inclusive movements, you contribute to building peace.
Photo credit: @Ogunte
What are your ambitions for Ogunte?
My aim is to see at least one million women social entrepreneurs connect together, become global household names, and be valued as economic, social and civic participants. This is a life thread that underpins my conversations, the business support I provide, and the connections I make. It’s my obsession.
We have a lot of experience and insight to share in pursuit of this goal. We’re providing more and more support to second-tier organisations, such as networks of social entrepreneurs, incubators, campaigning groups, and policy makers: we want to help them achieve concrete and integrated steps to promote women among their partners, especially women social entrepreneurs. I want Ogunte to become a key player in advisory services for all things related to women’s social entrepreneurship globally; being part of strategic learning conversations enables us to make a bigger impact.
It’s a hard job because the work to be done is huge and can be overwhelming. We have to celebrate every achievement, even the smallest. I don’t always do that myself, so I especially value this behavior among the women we support. That’s why I love working with them. The network of education and support that we have created benefits not only the women that participate, but also myself, and everyone involved in this venture.