H&M Foundation unveils list of 500 female business leaders

HM foundationH&M has launched a list of 500 female business leaders, presenting power portraits and stories of entrepreneurs from emerging markets all over the world featured by its foundation and humanitarian agency CARE.

According to H&M Foundation, the list, which features 500 business leaders growing their companies in the harshest of startup environments, was launched to challenge stereotypes and redefine what a business leader looks like.

“Why? It can help reduce poverty and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality,” the foundation said in a statement.

The foundation added that the initiative shows that empowering women is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and create economic growth.

“Entire economies lose out when a substantial part of the population can’t realise its full potential.”

Diana Amini, global manager at H&M Foundation, said the entrepreneur is the hero of our time, and added it is estimated that over the coming years over one billion women will enter the workforce – a majority through entrepreneurship.

“But, you can’t be what you can’t see,” Amini said. “Women rarely make the covers of business magazines, in fact the last time a woman was on the cover of Fortune Magazine was October 2014. With the Foundation 500 list we want to re-define what a business leader looks like.”

The Foundation 500 list includes the owner of West Ivory Coast’s first bus company, a CEO from Indonesia growing her business by the means of Facebook and the president of a Peruvian Trout Farmers Association. The CEO of Icha Fashion was also featured; an Indonesian who resells clothes and has also recently started making and selling food for children which she sells from her home.

“Born with zero privilege, the women portrayed in the Foundation 500 list have made their own fortunes in the harshest of startup-environments,” said Alek Wek, British/Sudanese Supermodel, Entrepreneur and H&M Foundation Ambassador. “Yet, their stories often go untold. I wish I had seen women like these on the cover of business magazines when I grew up in South Sudan.”

H&M Foundation stated the backbone of the Foundation 500 is the learnings from the Global Program on Empowering Women through Enterprise Development initiated by them and CARE in 2014.

“The women on the Foundation 500 list are part of this program, which in its first phase has reached over 100,000 women in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Zambia,” H&M Foundation stated. “In Burundi, the average rate of increase in income among women in the program was 202,8 per cent, the lowest being 104 per cent and the highest 401 per cent. Due to the success, a renewed three-year commitment is made.”

Karl-Johan Persson, board member H&M Foundation and CEO H&M, said for 2014-2020, the fashion chain has pledged 120 million Swedish krona ($14 million/€12 million) to support over 200,000 women entrepreneurs from emerging markets with seed capital and skills training to start and expand their businesses.

“If the world is to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals on women’s empowerment and gender equality, the time to act is now,” Persson said.

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