Celebrating International Women's Day

8 March 2022 | Social Ventures

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we caught up with Dr Julie Lanigan and Professor Catherine Holloway. Both UCL social entrepreneurs have benefited from UCLB’s social ventures support, and we wanted to find out what inspired them to set up a social venture. We get their insights on what impact women are having within the social ventures field and how we can inspire more women to get involved in setting up businesses for social good.

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Dr Julie Lanigan, Co-Founder & Director, Trim Tots CIC

Why did you start your social venture?

I am Co-Founder and a Director of Trim Tots Community Interest Company and was part of a team that developed the Planet Munch Healthy Lifestyle programme at UCL GOS ICH in response to the urgent need to reduce the burden of childhood obesity in the UK. Research I was involved in at the Childhood Nutrition Research Centre found that risk factors for obesity present early in life, during the preschool years. Once established obesity is hard to reverse and increases the risk of disease in childhood as well as in the long term. Prevention is therefore a key strategy. There are many factors that predispose children to excess weight gain. Genes play a role, and the tendency to gain weight more easily does run in families. Other risk factors include diet and physical activity related behaviours such as more time spent in seated activities that can combine to create a less healthy lifestyle. To address this, we created and evaluated Trim Tots that aims to help families with young children reduce their risk of obesity. Trim Tots CIC was formed to make Planet Munch more widely available and help families find a healthier way of living.

Are there any women you have worked with who have particularly inspired you?

There are many inspirational women in the healthcare landscape. I have been motivated to follow the lead of entrepreneurial women setting up social enterprises and charities.  For example, I worked for many years as the HIV dietitian at GOSH alongside Dr Karyn Moshal, an infectious diseases paediatrician.  Karyn comes from South Africa and was moved by the plight of children and families there who were affected by the global HIV general epidemic. Karyn motivated family and friends and colleagues to donate in kind or financially and set up the CHIVA (Children’s HIV Association) Africa. The charity supported multi-disciplinary healthcare teams from the UK to travel to South Africa to support the antiretroviral drug roll out. I was privileged to be part of this team and admire Karyn for setting up this great initiative. Other inspiring women include all the hardworking dietitians who give their time to support our professional organisation – the British Dietetic Association. The list is endless but a few names spring to mind including Margaret Lawson, Vanessa Shaw and currently Philippa Wright who manage/d the Dietetics Department in Great Ormond Street Hospital. A very demanding job that requires a high level of clinical, managerial, and business skills. Lisa Cooke heads the Dietetics department at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Her boundless energy is awesome.  All these women give up their time to volunteer on committees and groups to support their profession and the wider health landscape. At ICH Mary Fewtrell is a hard-working high achieving paediatrician who is a credit to the medical profession and a great example of a leading female Professor. These women all have entrepreneurial spirits and go beyond the call to achieve much for themselves and others.

What kind of impact do you think women are making in the social ventures field?

I believe the impact of women in the social ventures field is growing at an exponential rate. Women in the workforce increases year on year and more are sitting on boards and gaining top level experience. This is giving them the confidence to branch out and innovate. Women have done this throughout history of course and I’ve been inspired by such women working in my own field including Elsie Widdowson, who strove to ensure people received adequate nutrition to support a healthy life and Dorothy Hodgkin who was awarded a Nobel prize for her pioneering work in vitamin B-12. More recently, several women have formed social ventures that aim to preserve the health of the planet.  Rising stars in this area include Linda Grieder CEO of the Rethink Resource transforming industrial waste into sustainable products creating business opportunities for many and Tessa Clarke CEO of the Share More – Waste Less initiative that aims to reduce food waste. Outside the world of food and nutrition women are carving out niches in diverse areas including retail, hospitality and media. In each case Women bring their own unique style and skillset to the business world.

How can we continue to encourage women to seek support for their research and create social ventures?

Women need the support to enter the world of social ventures and entrepreneurship. Women may need encouragement to branch out and try a new idea. There are great programmes available that provide training in entrepreneurship including accelerators. Employers can help by allowing female employees access to training. Mentorship is key and programmes that provide women with peer support are essential. The Mentors Network provides advice and support to women setting up start-ups. Bootcamps can be a great place to start, providing training and opportunities to pitch new ideas and businesses. Blooming Founders is a great example of a social network for early-stage female entrepreneurs working in the London area. We need more of these. Tide is another venture that aims to support entrepreneurial women in their ventures. Finance of course is essential and orgs such as the Funding Circle offers help there. We must continue to provide women with all the support they need to allow them to grow and develop and empower them to take their ideas to the limit!

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Professor Catherine Holloway, Lead Academic for Tacilia

Why did you start your social venture?

We set up the Global Disability Innovation Hub Community Interest Company (GDI Hub CIC) to help accelerate disability innovation for a fairer world. We saw that innovations which support disability justice were failing. This failure happened at policy and practice levels as well at the level of product or service innovation. We wanted to change that by making an organisation which could drive change through research, teaching, innovation, programmes and advocacy.  I also loved working with my co-founders and directors Victoria Austin (formally Head of Paralympic Legacy & Sport for London 2012 and now CEO of GDI Hub CIC) and Iain McKinnon (former head of inclusive Design at for London 2012 & Director of Operations, GDI Hub CIC)

Are there any women you have worked with who have particularly inspired you?

Victoria Austin – her political expertise alongside strategic vision and academic leadership inspire me daily. I have also learnt a great deal from and respect Prof Ann Blandford who has achieved a great deal in computer science over a distinguished career, and who always seems to find the time to help GDI Hub.

What kind of impact do you think women are making in the social ventures field?

Not as much as we could – I think though more broadly in terms of social justice, each under-represented group represents a lack of opportunity for us as a society to do better.

4. How can we continue to encourage women to seek support for their research and create social ventures?

Inclusive thinking in the work place, understanding the needs of women – sometimes theses are distinct from other groups and sometimes they overlap. Generally, I think if we create inclusive environments for thinking and ways of working then women, men, people who are non-binary – we will all succeed together. This inclusive mindset is the most important thing, wanting to get to know the person and their journey, their struggles and then supporting that person, where they are in that moment. We need more of this and less cookie-cut programmes which people must fit into and around.

Further information: 

Launch a social venture with support from UCLB. 

Trim Tots CIC

Global Disability Innovation Hub