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Kering Foundation Awards Reflect #MeToo Moment

Céline Bonnaire is executive director of the Kering Foundation

PARIS — Among topics addressed by this year’s round of Foundation awards is one of the crucial issues laid bare by the #MeToo movement: What can be done to prevent male perpetrators from harming women?

Reaching across three continents, and sifting through 180 applicants, the Kering Foundation has chosen seven winners for its biannual awards for social entrepreneurs fighting violence against women, to be handed out at a ceremony here on Tuesday evening.

Now in its 10th year, the foundation is adding a two-year mentorship program to the financial awards, which range from 5,000 euros to 10,000 euros. Winners also enter a six-month incubation program with a social innovation specialist.

Mauro Antonio Vargas Urías, who founded Mexico-based non-governmental organization Gendes, is the first example of a Kering foundation winner working with men on the topic of “healthy masculinity.”

“We use the magic of listening and understanding to confront men, so they can acknowledge their mistakes, get in touch with their feelings and change their behaviors,” he said in a statement.

Céline Bonnaire, executive director of the Kering Foundation, said it was key to work on the origins of violence.

“The approach is to work with male perpetrators and to deconstruct what Americans are calling toxic masculinity at its roots. We truly believe that working with young men is something extremely important to tackle the subject in a different manner and have an impact,” she said.

Bonnaire, who has managed the foundation from its establishment in 2008, said the choice of mission was clear from the start. With women accounting for 60 percent of the group’s employees and 80 percent of its customers, executives decided to tackle another statistic: the fact that one in three women around the word are victims of violence.

“This is all taken for granted today, but in 2006 and 2007, it was completely taboo — very little was said about violence against women and even less about the fact that this affects all cultures and all nationalities,” she said.

Kering chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault wanted to use the group’s stature to tackle such taboos, noted Bonnaire.

In the past five years, the foundation has been focusing on the three continents and six countries where the majority of the group is present, with specific themes for each region.

In the Americas, the emphasis is on sexual violence; in Western Europe, on harmful traditional practices like female mutilation, and in Asia, on domestic violence. The foundation works with local NGOs on the topics, and has also carried out campaigns with its employees through training sessions worldwide.

In addition to Gendes, this round of prize winners are Jessica Ladd, who set up Callisto, a web site for reporting sexual assault on American university campuses; Li Ying, a lawyer who founded Yuanzhong, a support center for survivors; Hera Hussain, with an open resource project called Chayn that assists women looking for help; Barbara Spezini, founder of Colori Vivi, which supports refugee women by teaching them tailoring skills; Marie Reverchon, who set up Du Pain et Des Roses, teaching refugee women florist skills, and Run, founded by Virginie Goethals, providing physical exercise programs to refugees and asylum seekers.

Hussain noted the prize will bolster the legitimacy of volunteer-run Chayn and provide development assistance for its chatbot service.

“It’s very difficult to build technical projects like this unless you have dedicated funding and support for it, which is what this prize has allowed us to do,” she noted.

The U.K.-educated Pakistani national started Chayn after helping two friends escape from abusive marriages, an experience that taught her how hard it can be to access information.

“The resources you would find were not user-centric — they were very difficult and overwhelming,” she noted. A U.K.-based survivor noted that it took 15 clicks to find a local refuge. For someone with just five minutes to seek help, that’s at least 10 clicks too many, Hussain added.

That’s where the chatbot steps in, attempting to understand and clarify what women are saying.

The open-source project counts 400 volunteers from more than 15 countries. Illustrating the need for local expertise, Hussain noted the organization discovered frequent use of the word “narcissist” in survivors’ forums by women describing their partners in the U.S.

“This led us to work on making sure our chatbot understands that when they use the word narcissist, they’re talking about abuse,” she noted.

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