Moroccan entrepreneur Salma Bougarrani wins 2024 Cartier Women's Initiative prize

Scientist whose company produces clean water for rural villages receives $100,000 in funding at prestigious annual event

Salma Bougarrani's Green Watech helps clean and reuse household waste water in Moroccan villages. Photo: Cartier
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A Moroccan entrepreneur and scientist, whose company produces clean water for rural villages, has won the prestigious Cartier Women’s Initiative prize for the Middle East region.

One of three female entrepreneurs shortlisted, Salma Bougarrani was announced as the 2024 winner at a glittering ceremony in Shenzhen, China, last night. Her company, Green Watech, will receive access to mentorship and training programmes and $100,000 worth of funding.

Founded in 2018, Green Watech uses low-tech methods to clean household waste water for thousands of people living in Moroccan villages, enabling it to be safely used for agricultural irrigation. To date, Bougarrani's company has treated more than 200 million litres of water, helping to produce more than 11,000 tonnes of food.

As one of three entrepreneurs shortlisted by the Cartier Women’s Initiative for the Middle East 2024 award – the others were both Egyptians, Shahira Yahia and her company Chitosan, and Rania Gaafar and her business ADVA – Bougarrani is a symbol of further progress in gender equality across the region.

It is not a choice anymore. Safe water is mandatory. It is a right
Salma Bougarrani, founder, Green Watech

Speaking to The National before last night's announcement about the significance of being shortlisted, Bougarrani said: “I am the first Moroccan to make it to the Cartier Woman’s Initiative, so it is very rewarding. I am a female scientist who had a very modest upbringing and I have had to work very hard to take on these challenges. Now girls from rural areas will believe even they can do this.

“In clean tech, there are only three women working in Morocco, versus 3,000 men. Providing a clean sanitation service is personal because I used to spend my holidays in my grandfather’s village where waste water was untreated and ejected straight into rivers. I remember my mum telling me not to drink it or I would get sick.

“In Morocco, we have more that 32,000 villages without access to safe sanitation. People are ejecting waste water into the rivers and then using that water to irrigate their vegetables and clean their homes.

“More than 2.3 billion people around the world do not have access to safe sanitation, so we are trying to democratise it. It is not a choice any more. Safe water is mandatory. It is a right.”

The Cartier Women’s Initiative was launched in 2006 to help female-launched companies access funding. When Cartier discovered that as little as 2 per cent of funding across the world goes to female entrepreneurs, the French jewellery house launched its initiative in a bid to redress the balance.

Each year, women-run businesses from nine geographical areas are put through a rigorous selection process, with only the strongest, most cohesive business plans making it through to the shortlist and becoming what CWI calls a “fellow”.

The award ceremony is held in a different city each year – Shenzhen was chosen this year because it is one of the world’s foremost technology and start-up hubs – and the finalists are brought together for intense mentorship and guidance to help strengthen their companies.

One winner is chosen from reach region to receive the top prize of $100,000 in funding, with the first and second runners-up receiving $60,000 and $30,000 respectively.

Since its inception, CWI has helped more than 300 female entrepreneurs with their businesses and Cartier says about 92 per cent of them are still going strong.

Last night's glittering event was held at the Bay Opera house of Shenzhen and was hosted by presenter Sandi Toksvig and model-turned-entrepreneur Karlie Kloss.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 5:33 AM