On January 9th 2018, Stillpoint Spaces Paris hosted an event in collaboration with two Associations: Led by HER and Dire (an Italian, women’s-international network).
The subject of the evening was on women who have experienced violence, but are later given the opportunity, the support, and the appropriate tools to rebuild a sense of integrity by creating their own companies. This process helps them to overcome the fear, the guilt, and the shame of being victims of violence, and enables them to express their talent and creativity.
It is fundamental for women to speak about the violence they have suffered, and to be publicly recognized as victims in order to be able to start a process of repairing their inner, broken integrity. But beyond and after the human right of recognition, women also need to find new forms of confidence by exploring their own inner resources and creativity. This is a very long, and often painful, process as many clinicians see in consulting rooms: sometimes, the role of “victim” can become a new prison, if resources and creativity are not made available and are not expressed—both inside the consulting rooms as well as outside, in the real lives of these women—through a deep, transformative process.
Through the support offered by Led by HER and its teams, women are given a unique opportunity to develop their talent and creativity, and to put it in practice by creating their own companies.
Led by HER is the first French social incubator that helps transform vulnerable women into entrepreneurs.
Chiara Condi is the founder and president of Led by HER, and she was kind enough to talk with Stillpoint Spaces Paris about her work.
SPS Paris: Why Led by HER?
CC: I have been working towards creating a world where the organization I founded, Led By HER, would no longer need to exist—because equality would be a reality, and not a struggle. Discrimination and gender violence would not exist, and diversity in business and entrepreneurship would be a fact. Through my activities and actions over the last 8 years, I have actively contributed to the creation of this world. After launching my career— working on the impact of gender in investment projects at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development—I launched Led By HER (www.ledbyher.org) in Paris, France to work on innovation, women’s rights, and entrepreneurship. My experience taught me that to change things, I had to attack the problem holistically by fighting for the place of women in society. In order for things to truly improve for women, everything had to change: our entire society has to evolve, including the way it looks at women.
Working with women-focused programs for a multilateral development bank helped me understand the universal disadvantages that women face, particularly those who have experienced violence, regardless of who they are or where they live in the world. Just as I learned many of the same causes were at the root of their vulnerability and isolation, I also realized that resources could be more effectively organized to assist them in developing solutions. I tried to develop my own program to address this need after spending significant time with potential beneficiaries in France, and working closely with existing supportive organizations in order to tailor a program that directly responded to the unmet need for this specific group. I envisioned an organization where the participants’ ability to thrive was at the heart of its community and mission.
SPS Paris: Why does it work?
CC: At Led By HER we are convinced that resilience is a powerful mechanism for socio-economic transformation, and that entrepreneurship is an excellent tool for empowerment and reintegration. The autonomy of women is essential for their personal and professional development: to control their future and to get them out of situations of isolation. Financial self-sufficiency is also the best way to prevent—and combat—the situation of vulnerability and precariousness in which women who have suffered forms of violence often find themselves.
The work we do has an impact on a much broader community than the women we are helping directly. By promoting entrepreneurship and women’s leadership, we include institutions, partners of all types, and individuals who would never have become invested in this cause. We have allowed members of our community to come together to make a difference in the lives of these women, proving that this is also possible in many other contexts and on several scales. By showing examples of women who have not only overcome significant obstacles but have also rebuilt to succeed in something they love, we are also rewriting the common discourse of violence and victimization of women in our societies.
SPS Paris: How does Led by HER help women recover from violence and then find their own creative process, enabling them to build their enterprise?
CC: Led By HER works first and foremost on the person, before the project. This is why the only criteria to enter the program is very intangible: motivation. The women must want to be there and feel that it is the right moment to create this type of change in their lives. We work with excellent coaches who help our participants find within themselves the passion and resources behind their project and help them create a project out of their unique talents. We are also lucky that our business school professors teach a lot about the creative process behind entrepreneurship, and about idea generation: they have developed a wide range of tools and workshops to achieve this. This is a process of constant evolution, and we find that many participants change their projects as they know themselves more and work on further developing their ideas.
SPS Paris: What are the different types of expertise that you have gathered through Led by Her to support women in this process?
CC: We have chosen to focus Led By HER on rebuilding the professional lives of women, so we work with a large network of organizations that offer services that our very complementary to ours, which is why we have a limited set of expertise within Led By HER. Within our own organization, we have gathered various experts from the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem that can bring women the tools and skills they need to build a new professional future for themselves. Led By HER offers a year-long entrepreneurship program that helps women who have suffered from violence to rebuild their lives. The program was built with two business schools (IESEG and ESCP) and includes individual mentoring, and events (including hackathons). The organization has a community of more than 250 volunteers and collaborates with companies (Google, AXA, Orange, DELL. BAIN, BNP Paribas, Salesforce, Starbucks). Although the programs are directed by our two partner business schools there are a wide range of coaches (one third of our program is personal development), professors, entrepreneurs and employees from our partner companies who teach within it. This hybrid and heterogeneous nature of the program contributes greatly to the excellence and diversity of the teaching it offers.
SPS Paris: How can women find you and how do you select the programs?
CC: Today many of the women who participate in the program learn about Led By HER through other women who have participated in previous cohorts and who have benefitted from being in the program. Seeing others who have lived through it and have been transformed is definitely the most convincing way to recruit potential candidates. Other women find us through a network of organizations and professionals (therapists, doctors, lawyers, psychologists) that we have built over the last several years. Today thanks to our visibility many women also find us through traditional and social media. Our intake happens once a year from March to July and women can apply directly on our website. Once they apply we have them go through individual and group interviews that allow them to learn more about the program and what they can expect to see if we are the best match for their current needs.
SPS Paris: Can you tell us about the programs you have developed?
CC: Along with two business schools, we have developed a very unique program that focuses on helping participants develop a greater sense of self-awareness and knowledge through an intense personal development course we have set up with a coaching school called Le Playground, along with much more technical and entrepreneurial training. We are lucky to have professors from schools such as the ESCP who try innovative pedagogical tools such as the “project improbable,” in which participants learn about entrepreneurship through the artistic process and many more individuals who bring their unique teaching methods to the program. The program is structured to help participants learn about entrepreneurship, but also to instill in them a personal and professional transformation.
SPS Paris: What are the real deep changes you can describe in the women you have been working with since you started? In their personalities? in their lives?
CC: We definitely have had many women who have created various entrepreneurial ventures, and that is very important because it means that the tools and help we are giving have been important in shaping their lives. What we see that is even more important than the number of businesses started is the change in their own person that takes place at a much deeper level, that then transforms into a change in how they see the world and show up in it. The women become much more aware and aligned with their potential and this gives them great confidence to step into the arena as themselves. This true presence then transforms into others around them perceiving them differently and usually it is through that observation of the other that they realize that their life has changed.
SPS Paris: What happens when a woman fails? Is there a risk of repeating violence by deceiving expectations?
CC: Usually we say that there is no failure because we do not concentrate on the success of the project per se but rather on life transformation through entrepreneurship. We like to think that the project is usually an outcome of this transformation. This means that transformation is a process and not a result. Once this process gives the person autonomy and choice over her own life—whether she becomes an entrepreneur or not—she is free.