“Orixas are the spirits that you are born with. During my time in Brazil as a capoeira player, the mother of one of my friends there explained to me that your orixa is the spirit you’re born with and that protects you. My spirit, she explained, was Yemanjá Oguntê, a feminine patron spirit, protector of the seas and navigators. And that was always spot-on. She is the spirit who has been with me ever since and I’m still learning from her but I think now that I’m closing the Oguntê chapter of my life, it’s time to let her rest a little bit and give her time to mature.”
I believe in the power of bringing people together who share a vision and of giving them space to share their ideas and concerns.
Meet Servane Mouazan, founder of Oguntê, a B Corp certified Community Interest Company (CIC) and – more importantly – global network of impact-driven women. Servane hails from Brittany, France, speaks five languages and currently calls London, UK, home where she is about to embark on her next chapter in the world of conscious gender-lens investing.
The Oguntê Years
“I never set out to do something exclusively for women by women. That was just the organic growth from my connections into a larger network of female social entrepreneurs. I believe in the power of bringing people together who share a vision and of giving them space to share their ideas and concerns. In the case of Oguntê, these people were all women but you have to remember that they, too, are very different among themselves. Of course, a room with only women in social enterprises will have a unique vibe; you won’t necessarily sense as much competition as you might in a co-ed setting, but you have to keep in mind that identity is complex.
The truth is, our lives are infested with stereotypes. Like any good martial artist, you need to work with these stereotypes, transform the energy into strengths.
At the beginning, I made a living translating Dutch love stories. I kid you not. All the Bridgerton fans know what I’m talking about. I made enough to pay rent and otherwise lived a pretty frugal life in Holland. I moved on to other jobs – service hotline for the first home computers (I learned a lot about listening for real problems, the ideal training for any coach!), video production for major record companies etc. I realized that I had built up a great network of people who trusted me and understood my intentions to help so they were willing to let me pilot some things to see what worked.
Our mission was to help 250 women grow 250 social businesses in 250 days.
When I landed in the UK, I started collaborating with various trusts and intermediaries supporting the voluntary sector, social entrepreneurs, and community development organisations, and that allowed me to build an even stronger network in the social economy space. If you don’t have a direct revenue model for a network like Oguntê, it helps to have a product. In my case, we created the Women’s Social Leadership Award which we ran for seven years. Scouts in different countries helped us identify women social entrepreneurs around the world and study their needs, strengths and skills in more detail. Later on, that led to the creation of Make a Wave, our incubation program – the first for women in social enterprises in the UK – which we first ran in both London and Manchester to help women-led social enterprises get ready for growth and scale. At the time, incubators and accelerators were popping up like mushrooms all around us; what made this program different was that it was very much designed by the members themselves. Our mission was to help 250 women grow 250 social businesses in 250 days. It was ambitious and built an incredibly strong network. Even now, 15 years later, women from that program are still connected, and some are still participating in my current programs. That is the true value of a support network like Oguntê.”
“You can’t talk about women social entrepreneurs without grappling with the question of financing their ventures. As part of Oguntê, we worked with the Match International Women’s Fund which is now the Equality Fund to support women and girls projects all over the world.
How can philanthropy and social finance learn to live together?
I’ve spent the last ten years in the social finance space. I worked with the Womanity Foundation to help them invest in evidence-based programs that combat gender-based violence, to be adapted with partners in other settings.
I am passionate about building the capacity and the voice of a diverse group of women who direct capital to transform people’s lives.
I’m also on the steering committee of Women in Social Finance here in the UK, which was founded by Suzanne Biegel who is an absolute powerhouse in the space of gender lens investing! I’ve learned a lot from her and I’m very interested in seeing that sector flourish. I am passionate about building the capacity and the voice of a diverse group of women who direct capital to transform people’s lives. I believe they can join forces – and a variety of adequate financial products – to accelerate that transformation.
I want to bring more women in positions of influence to decide where money is invested.
I’m curious to find out how philanthropy and social finance can co-exist and learn from each other. I’m also curious to dive deeper into issues of intersectionality in the impact investment space. It’s about time we talk about investment standards and shortfalls for people of different ethnicities, abilities, ages, etc. Intersectionality doesn’t end with gender and we have a lot of work to do to break open these narrow mindsets and widen everyone’s horizon. To me, that involves bringing in people who have assets, resources, influence and/or capital and are tinkering around the edges because they don’t know yet how to use them to align with their purpose. I want to help in bringing these newcomers into the space and make sure they’re not entirely unprepared.”
“This last year alone reminded me of how fast the world turns. When I think about what’s happening in Syria, Lebanon, Brazil and other regions of the world that live with the constant threat of war, genocide and/or environmental disasters, my concern is whether we are doing enough. Did I do enough to connect people? Has it all been useful? Did I shut up long enough to truly listen? Have I wasted time?
These are the times when I’m reminded that I work best when I’m part of a collective. I need an army of people who are on the same wavelength as I am. That doesn’t mean a homogenous army, but I’d like to think that there are so many impact makers who are fighting the good fight around the world, and that gives me hope.”
How can we support you?
“I am looking for changemakers who want to accelerate their impact by addressing their focus issue. What is your obstacle, why isn’t focus your best friend, what drives you, what could you achieve if that issue was gone? Tell me: http://eepurl.com/hp0h55 .”
Advocate and capacity builder for women in social enterprise and social finance. Multilinguist and capoeira player.