Assia Riccio is the founder of the Evolvin’ Women, an idea that occurred to her in 2011 when after winning the prestigious Olive Barnet award she could take up courses at Cornell. It was at Cornell that she met Wilma, a Ghanaian who asked why she was there – Assia was one of the youngest – and at that moment she felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity. She believed she benefitted from the course and wanted to allow others to do the same, Assia comments:

‘‘I just wanted to do something like this for women who couldn’t attend – I wanted to say, ‘do this and you’ll be fine’’.

In 2017 her dream came true, with a lot of hard work, she set up the social enterprise Evolvin’ Women.

She created the business model with women in mind, by firstly creating a system of endorsement for hospitality businesses, which is based on the 7 Women Empowerment Principles, the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Global Compact. Once a business receives the endorsement, after a thorough assessment, she works closely with them to provide them with interns from Ghana (at the moment). The profit she receives from the business goes into running training courses in developing countries for women who may not have the opportunity to attend formal courses or gain employment in the hospitality sector. Assia points out that opportunity is the most important part of her impact measurement

‘‘I don’t count how many women sign up or attend training, I count how many have better opportunities, in a years’ time or even 5 years’ time’’.

So far Evolvin’ Women have endorsed The Retreat, Palm Dubai MGallery by Sofitel and have delivered one two-week training course for 13 women in Ghana of which one is now in Dubai on a yearlong internship. This was the first non-profit education project for Evolvin’ Women (that later became known as Pop Up Academy), which Assia comments ‘wouldn’t have been possible without Wilma, my fellow student from Cornell, whose company Intrigued By Service became our local partner’. Assia hopes that Evolvin’ Women might help more women to reach top managerial positions within the hospitality industry after facing barriers herself:

‘in the boardroom, I was once told not to speak until the male manager gave me the right to speak, well I didn’t take it sitting down and I think that is why it is so important for me to work with women and ensure they believe their voice matters’.

When asked what she hopes Evolvin’ Women will be in 5 years’ time, Assia comments:

‘I hope it will be the platform to go to for hospitality businesses who want to work on closing their gender gaps, if sadly we haven’t already done that – I want to help businesses become a catalyst for change and provide better opportunities for women especially from developing countries.