CircuLead was a dynamic 4-week initiative meticulously designed to empower women entrepreneurs pioneering innovative solutions in the Resource Efficiency (RE) and Circular Economy (CE) sectors. An initiative by the EU-Resource Efficiency Initiative (EU-REI) in collaboration with Nüshu Network and powered by Unlock Impact, the programme aimed to bolster the business models of women leaders, deepen their leadership skills, and facilitate peer learning through a hybrid, immersive learning experience. In this blog, Poornima Menon, former Program Manager at Unlock Impact, shares her account of the CircuLead programme and learnings that came out of it.
In the pursuit of a sustainable and equitable future, the relevance of Resource Efficiency (RE) and Circular Economy (CE) cannot be overstated. However, this shift also demands a keen focus on gender equality to build a truly inclusive society. CircuLead showcased its commitment to this cause. As I try and unveil the CircuLead journey, I hope to share the invaluable lessons learned that go beyond business and touch the very core of empowering women entrepreneurs.
CircuLead was a 4-week hybrid program designed to empower women entrepreneurs by building innovative solutions in the Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy space. The program was designed to support women leaders to strengthen their business models, deepen their leadership skills, and learn from peers through a hybrid, immersive learning experience. The EU-Resource Efficiency Initiative (EU-REI) implemented this capacity-building programme with support from the Nüshu Network, powered by Unlock Impact.
To fulfil these goals, CircuLead strategically executed impactful activities as part of the program. It meticulously curated and documented success stories, highlighting 7 women-led circular economy solutions in India across diverse industries. The heart of the program lay in a comprehensive four-week training sprint, engaging a cohort of 14 brilliant women entrepreneurs. This hybrid approach seamlessly blended a weekly self-paced learning video module with a transformative 2-day in-person workshop, providing exposure to innovative ideas and building connections. CircuLead not only sought to refine business models but also actively contributed to the dialogue on gender mainstreaming within the circular economy, marking a significant step toward building a more equitable and sustainable entrepreneurial landscape.
The prospect of being a part of CircuLead initiative alongside EU REI, adelphi, and the GIZ team sparked a unique blend of excitement and interest in me to be working with sector experts. The opportunity to dive into a project immediately following the mammoth effort of Level Up seemed like the logical next step. However, as the reality of the program's exceptionally short deadline set in, panic and anxiety became familiar companions. Despite the initial challenges, the pull of the experience and the potential for learning overshadowed any reservations.
We had 14 exceptional applications that successfully joined the final cohort. Each startup was a woman-led initiative committed to making a positive impact in the circular economy space.
A significant highlight for both the team and the cohort was the eagerly anticipated 2-day in-person workshop. As we unveiled leadership modules weekly, the startups' responses, particularly on topics like imposter syndrome, revealed authentic insights. It was compelling to witness how women deal with self-doubt daily yet remain resilient in building enterprises that contribute positively to the world. Their stories, journeys, and struggles not only inspired me but also fueled my motivation to anchor myself in initiatives aimed at cultivating and strengthening a support system for women entrepreneurs navigating the entrepreneurial landscape.
Having previously managed over 200 startups online during Level Up, the shift to handling submissions, reflections, and even travel plans for just 14 startups during CircuLead brought its own set of surprises. However, the real payoff came during the two-day workshop, making the entire journey incredibly rewarding.
As we delved deeper into the essence of CircuLead, it became apparent that the hybrid flexible learning module played a crucial role in addressing gender issues related to accessibility and the unique responsibilities that women often navigate as entrepreneurs. This innovative approach acknowledged and accommodated women's additional responsibilities, allowing them the flexibility to engage with the program at their convenience. By providing a virtual self-paced learning experience, CircuLead recognized women's diverse challenges and offered a solution that aligned with their circumstances.
The in-person event, a major program element, went beyond traditional learning settings. It became a platform for women to build genuine connections, bonds, and collaborations—an opportunity that may not be as commonplace for women as it is for men. The program recognized the importance of building and nurturing relationships, understanding that these connections could lead to fruitful collaborations in the future. This aspect of the program was a unique opportunity for women to network and collaborate, breaking away from conventional norms.
A major highlight of CircuLead was the participation of a woman entrepreneur who brought her 3-year-old son to the program due to the absence of alternative caregivers. This situation sheds light on the genuine challenges women face in balancing entrepreneurship with caregiving responsibilities. The program not only accommodated this participant but also underscored the need for future programs to be designed with inclusivity in mind, considering the diverse responsibilities women juggle.
Amidst the enriching learning experiences, CircuLead became more than just a program—it became a dedicated space for women to have fun, learn, and carve out precious time for themselves. This is particularly significant, as it acknowledges the rarity of such opportunities for women. By providing a supportive environment that recognizes and addresses these challenges, CircuLead paved the way for a more inclusive and empowering model, setting a standard for future programs to follow suit.