The Cartier Women’s Initiative was started in 2006 with the goal of shining a spotlight on women- owned businesses that make a strong social and/or environmental impact. Over the years, it has provided female entrepreneurs with financial resources, training, media visibility and international networking opportunities, as well as a chance to join an INSEAD impact entrepreneurship programme. Here’s the story of one of this year’s laureates.

The temperature can go up to 48 deg C during summer in Iraq. However, because of the country’s unstable power grid, the electricity supply lasts for less than 12 hours a day, so many residents are unable to use cooling devices for long.

“This is why more than a third of Iraq’s electricity is privately produced. However, private electrical generators are not only 25 times more expensive, but also highly pollutive,” says Basima Abdulrahman.

After learning about green building design and the green building rating system LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) while studying in the US, the 35-year- old Iraqi started Kesk in her home country. The company uses green building services and products to change the way buildings and communities are planned, constructed, maintained and operated.

“In Iraq, LEED can help achieve average annual energy savings of $25,000 per building, and an average annual reduction of CO2 emission by up to 3,000kg per building,” she points out.

Last year, Kesk began testing solar-powered AC units – it has sold 100 units so far. While the units can’t be operated at night, they leave houses cool after dusk because they run throughout the day. The company aims to sell up to 5,000 units in the next five years.

Though there have been moments when the first-time entrepreneur was overwhelmed by the bumps along the way, Basima makes sure to never let her uncertainty override her concern for environmental issues.

“Climate change is a political issue, humanitarian crisis and potential armed conflict. It is going to displace millions of people. Buildings last for decades and are responsible for one- third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so we need to start acting now to build the climate- safe world we want and need,” she explains.

“I went through a long period of self-doubt, but I needed to pursue my passion in my home country. Eventually, I had enough self-confidence to take the first step, and things began to fall into place afterwards.”

Her advice for taking the plunge to start your own business? Just do it. “Start small and take it one step at a time,” she says.

This story first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Her World.