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Tessa Chatagnon — emancipating women online

BY HANNIFFA PATTERSON
Business reporter
pattersonh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

In another of our features on Jamaicans doing business, this time we are coming from France. Today's feature focuses on Tessa Chatagnon, a Jamaican in Paris and co-founder of the young start-up, Wemancipate Women.

Tessa Chatagnon's life goal is to help other women succeed. Born in St. Ann, Jamaica, she attended St Andrew High School for girls, Meadowbrook High, then moved on to Middlebury college in Vermont, where she pursued a triple major in French, Spanish and international relations. She then pursued a Master's in French literature and culture, and another Master's in international cooperation in training and education.

Chatagnon currently lives in France, where she has resided for over a decade. A mother of three girls and the wife of a French businessman, Tessa is now branching out on her own.

After more than seven years working in one of Europe's premier business schools, Chatagnon has decided to take her experience and create something significant that will impact the lives of the women around her – in France and across the world.

The company is called Wemancipate Women. The mission, as described by their website, is “to empower individuals to find their life purpose and move towards making an aligned career change”.

The first project under the Wemancipate brand is Wemancipate Women – a collaborative and innovative platform geared towards women with the goal to help them succeed in finding purpose and changing their careers accordingly.

“It's always difficult to make any change in life. It is scary in particular for women who might not have the support they need, either at home or outside of the home. She might question whether she has the right to do this, is this reasonable, should she quit her day job, does she have the skills and competences? She might have even forgotten her worth, as she might have in the past just taken a job to support her family - not one necessarily aligned to her dreams and passion.”

The idea was born out of her own needs as a mother and young entrepreneur and also from her network of friends.

“As long as I can remember, I naturally called upon a circle of female friends and colleagues when confronted with the question of what actions or decisions to make… and these women in turn called upon me, when confronted with similar professional issues.”

She then thought, why not expand the number of people this can help and make this a global movement? Why not organise it in such a way that it could be structured, packaged and made available to others just like them who also had the same needs and a similar story?

It has now become her passion. Early on, her partner Adeomi Chabbal came on board and added to the company vision, motivation and determination. She is also a fellow Caribbean citizen, and hails from Trinidad.

Wemancipate offers consulting, networking, research and training.

“So we're here to encourage woman to take that step, to make that change, or to dare to try and make that change, and to align it to finding their purpose, and lining up to their goals in life - finding what you're designed to do on Earth and to align it with your career.”

There is a reason they opted for an online platform, rather than simply an organisation for women. “There are so many organisations in France to help women, but honestly, very few we found online. Women are so busy, we wanted to give them the opportunity to access information, experts, mentors, a community for support and social actions. A woman anywhere can work on... can develop her project, little by little at her own pace and get customised help, and the support from experts and the community.”

Her vision is for the start-up to become the premier online collaborative platform in France. She also aspires to create an app or other software tool that will help in accomplishing this goal.

Currently the community is bilingual. But in the future she envisions a multilingual platform, where women can also get language training to make them more competent for potential career moves they might aspire to.

Chatagnon hopes to address the woman as a whole. “We want to address the woman in her totality, Her financial, social and cultural background. We want women to be able to see and build their skills through support, a community and collaboration.”

In building this business, Chatagnon and Chabbal have experienced particular challenges, one of which was, in some cases, blatant sexual discrimination. This is why the topic of discrimination is so dear to her heart. “We want to change discrimination against women and someday hope to have an institute that creates data and does research around women's issues.

“What are our challenges? Entrepreneurship. Female. Start-up. Those three words say it all. Just in defining ourselves, as such terms come with challenges.

“We both are young women who are wives and mothers, and even though it's 2017, there is still a lot expected of us. And even though we are currently based in a country which is a first world country, and which claims to be philosophically evolved – with the French revolution, Joan of Arc and Marrianne – we have still been experiencing discrimination…sexism. In one instance we met with a senior French consultant who basically listened to us, then tapped us on the shoulders and told us we were cute.”

Another challenge they face is a language barrier. But not in the sense that they don't speak French – both are fluent in the language. However, as Tessa explains, “Once you have an accent, people do not take you seriously.”

However, Chatagnon and partner Chabbal are determined to not let this hold them back: “…We are very passionate about what we do, we've lived here for over 12 years and are very comfortable with our French – even with our accents. (We) are able to move forward with our projects, because despite having a “cute” little accent, it doesn't make us less passionate, less serious or less of an entrepreneur.”

Bureaucracy and administration are also challenges . “Finding information has been a nightmare; all the different entities and French organisations. You have to go to a million of them just to get a small piece of [information about] the steps and procedures needed to create a company.” However, this has helped them to be more understanding of the needs of their clients who are also limited on time and suffer from information overwhelm when trying to build their business.

On the positive side they have been blessed and pleasantly surprised at the men and women who have joined in on their vision. “We have a Hungarian couple, a Mexican who lives in China, Jamaicans, French, Trinidadians. So many people who have diverse experiences and skills and have jumped on board to help.” There are currently about 20 “warriors”, as they like to call their team. “We also have advisors who assist us, guide us, ask us the hard questions and challenge us.”

“Wemancipate – We Emancipate. It's about empowering individuals. It is basically us emancipating ourselves – altogether, to help and uplift each other. It's based on the fact that we are not islands, we can't do much alone, but together as a unit and as a community, we can achieve so much more.”