“Why should doing something for the better good of a woman, a community, be the rare case?”
During our interview with Assia Riccio, founder of Evolvin’ Women, the statement mentioned above touched us and gave us a sense of realization and inspiration. Despite having won several awards and established recognition, Riccio’s main drive is still to bring change in the world by educating one woman at a time.
When asked about a high point in her life when she felt she contributed the most to society, Riccio stated that actually, she never felt that what she was doing was anything special. She illustrated, instead, there were moments where she realized that she was not doing enough, that there is so much more to be done, and that she cannot do it on her own. In fact, there should be a paradigm shift in the perspective of people about the importance of contributing to society.
In a world where opportunities are stolen from many young women by economic, social, and political conditions, Evolvin’ Women gives them the chance to reclaim their lives. Evolvin’ Women aims at building sustainable economies in developing countries through the advancement of women with limited access to education and skill development. The enterprise prepares unemployed women from emerging countries and provides them with development opportunities for their personal and professional advancement.
Seeneen Al Bastaki
Hamda Hassan Abdulla
The innovation that Evolvin’ Women introduced is a business model that addresses the social needs in developing countries through functioning as a training and sourcing company.
According to the founder of Evolvin’ Women, Riccio, the organization’s model is very simple and it drew inspiration from already existing training and recruitment companies, whereby they charge an admin fee to manage the impact project on behalf of their partners and for the delivery of the programme. The training is aimed at women who have had limited access to quality education and skill development. Evolvin Women also operates alongside governmental sectors. Despite being driven by social considerations, Riccio asserts that Evolvin’ Women still places importance on financial sustainability. What is more, at this stage the profit made is not shared with stakeholders, but instead re-invested into community development. The business model also actively involves working with the hospitality industry in Dubai. After completing their 3-month training, the women are offered a valuable 24-month opportunity to get a job in Dubai’s hotels and resorts.
Riccio described, “I was shocked by the reality I saw there with so many young women who had not had the opportunity to develop their skills, … [whose] role in society of care taker had been defined by social norms. As much as I believe this is important, I wanted to help them explore their potential and find out what other roles they could play in society.”
Riccio shed light on a few elements that triggered her desire to start this business. Talking about the inspiration of the organization, Riccio traced the origins all the way back to her childhood. As her mother was forced to quit her education at a young age and worked to support her family, Riccio grew up with a firm belief that no woman should be deprived from education. Seeing the situation in Africa as being similar to her mother’s own experience was a shock that drove Riccio to develop this innovation. Having been raised in a family that upheld social values, such as the importance of helping others, and seeing her mother’s efforts in supporting women’s right to education, Riccio became passionate and was motivated to continue this legacy of contributing to the improving the lives of others. In addition to this, when Riccio was made redundant after the restructuring of the company she was working for, she thought that there could have been not a better moment to start Evolvin’ Women.
In 2016, Riccio traveled several times to Africa in order to gain a broader knowledge of the challenges that developing countries were facing and was shocked to see the reality of women living in the third world. Since many of them came from rural areas, young girls were denied education, making it hard for them to escape the cycle of poverty and dependence. As Riccio points out, “There are many women who are stuck in their life because of circumstances they have not chosen for themselves.” Motivated by the desire to help, Riccio kept returning to Africa to learn about social dynamics and the realities of women. She found out that the unemployment rate for young women (25 and younger) reached 35% in some communities, which made them more susceptible to exploitation, forced labor, or even violence. Thus, Riccio established Evolvin’ Women to give these unemployed women a chance to find employment in the growing hospitality sector.
Some of the positive impacts that Evolvin’ Women have generated the growth of the business itself and the reconstruction of traditional methods of training services, as well as the benefit to partners and clients who seek to integrate more social good into their company. The amount of recognition Evolvin’ Women has received since 2016 is a demonstration of the world’s shift towards more socially sustainable companies. This recognition can also be leveraged to partner, work with, and reach more companies to create social value. The impact on some of the African communities where the applicants were selected is a positive one; it results in the empowerment of women and the development of their communities in the long term. Riccio mentioned the story of one of the women involved in the program: “A lady who is going back to Ghana at the end of this month and she is trying to set up a business [there]. And that is the result of what she has learned in Dubai.” Evidently, allowing unemployed women to have a higher disposable income now, future generations will not be deprived of education and will, therefore, be able to contribute more to their societies.
Evolvin’ Women have over 60 indicators used to measure the social impact on women involved. On top of qualitative indicators, Evolvin’ Women also uses financial indicators. When women start the training program, their performance is carefully monitored by the number of training hours they’ve completed, as well as their improvement over the course of 27 months. Moreover, Evolvin’ Women take note of the women’s wellbeing by keeping track of their medical insurance and their individual buying powers. The purpose is to ensure that upon completing the program the women have all the tools needed to ensure that they are capable of finding a job and living independently. When one of the women completes her program, Evolvin’ Women facilitates her return to a job back in her own country where she can continue to be independent. As Riccio explained, “It’s very much based on what our participants achieve, not what Evolvin’ Women achieve as an organization.”
Riccio shed light on one of the most impactful stories she heard as a result of Evolvin’ Women; one of the participants was able to get accepted in a university in the UK. Riccio believes that the program helped her understand the importance of education and boosted her confidence. She explains that Evolvin’ Women views women, who have been traditionally viewed as not capable, simply as people who have had their opportunities taken away. A major goal of the organization, she points out, is to uncover these opportunities by enabling them to build their confidence and do things they might never have thought they are capable of.
Overall, the strategy that Evolvin’ Women has for scaling in the future consists of two pillars: scaling geographically into new communities and countries and scaling into different sectors such as the telecommunication or health sectors in the UAE.
In contrast to recruitment companies who charge the organization a fee for filling a role, Evolvin’ Women charge fees for administering corporate social responsibility programs. Essentially, Evolvin’ Women helps run CSR programs for the companies they partner with while keepings their training efforts financially sustainable.
Evolvin’ Women have contributed immensely throughout the years by attending several conferences as a sustainable tourism initiative for women. They have attended summits such as Arabian Travel Market, African Women in Tourism Summit, Change Now International Summit. In 2018, Evolvin’ Women became a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact to which they report yearly. Moreover, in 2019, Evolvin’ Women became signatory to the Empowerment Principles, an initiative between the United Nation Global Compact and the UN Women.
Evolvin' Women have won several awards including the social enterprise of the year and the Arabian Business Startup (an award given to organizations that demonstrated their commitment and achievement drives). In 2019, two awards were given to Evolvin’ Women; Achieving Women Awards and Best Women in Hospitality Initiative reward. Both were given due to the establishment of a social enterprise that offer skill development to women from rural areas.
Evolvin’ Women offer women not only training, but also placements and development opportunities in the UAE. Riccio believes that the placement in the UAE are particularly important because it enables the women to be financially independent for two years. Despite the direct impact that the business is having on the lives of many women, Riccio still believes that it is something that people should be committed do. She explains that whenever others inquire, “Why are you doing this?” her response is, “Why not?” By educating these women, Evolvin’ Women is able to help close the gap of gender inequality as well as aim for decent work and economic growth. Evolvin’ Women wishes to create women-led micro-economies in the rural areas of Africa.
Assia Riccio, Founder
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Business Website: https://www.evolvinwomen.com/
Year Founded: 2016
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Evolvin’ Women helps private sector industries integrate social responsibility and inclusivity, as well as helps governments and NGOs reduce the unemployment rate of women in third world countries.