“From an early age, I was taught to do what I could to help those less fortunate and make a positive contribution to their lives. I think the values of giving back and providing to others influenced my decision to enter hospitality and to continue making a positive impact.”
Assia Riccio is the founder of Evolvin’ Women, an organisation developed to empower women in disadvantaged areas of Ghana, South Africa and Namibia by giving them access to vocational and international work experience that help them develop skills for the hospitality sector.
The value of giving back
Assia Riccio was born in southern Italy to a family determined to reduce poverty in developing countries by supporting children in education and employment.
After graduating in Economy of Tourism, Assia started her career at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons where she worked alongside hospitality professionals including Raymond Blanc and Philip Newman-Hall.
“I learned the importance of the guest experience and the significance of sustainable hospitality,” Assia remembers. “I worked my way through several roles starting in reservations, then moved to reception and finally worked as a Guest Relations Manager.”
Subsequently, Assia continued her education at the Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne in Switzerland and Cornell University in Ithaca. She then moved to Dubai, “I joined Dusit Thani as Learning & Development Manager and then the Jumeirah Restaurant Group as Group Learning and Development Manager where I developed the L&D strategy for over 1000 employees when the organization had a portfolio of 42 restaurants.”
Making a social impact
Throughout her career, Assia never forgot the work of her parents and wanted to find a way to help those who, because of circumstance, don’t always have the opportunities to succeed.
“In developing countries, the unemployment rate of women between the age of 17-25 can reach 35%,” explained Assia. “In some areas, 40% of unemployed women are facing this challenge due to the stigma attached to being the victim of violence or rape. In some cases, it is as simple as being from a less privileged economic background that has significantly limited their access to education, skills development and therefore employment.
“I was inspired by the success stories of those people my parents helped and after several trips to Africa where I met many unemployed women wanting to find a place in society, I refused to accept that they had no second chance in life.” In 2016, Assia left JRG and established Evolvin’ Women.
“Evolvin’ Women began as a one-off project, but in order to make it sustainable, I had to have a business model, hence the decision to make it a social enterprise instead of an NGO,” Assia explained. “Due to the social impact generated, within a few months of the launch, I realized that if it became a sustainable business I could help more women.”
Coming together for the common good
To create social change and to really make a difference, Assia had to bring together private and public sectors in a joint effort. “This is why I decided to approach governments in Africa and Dubai as well as the hospitality sector,” she said.
Evolvin’ Women works with foundations and governments in developing countries that are addressing women’s rights and their integration in the economy of their country. “We use behavioural interview tools for the selection and successful participants enrol on our 26-month programme, Assia said.
“During the first two months, we prepare participants to secure jobs in the UAE together with our educational partners Accenture and Cudoo and professional trainers. Once they secure a job, they come to the UAE for two years with a view to returning to a job in their home country at the end of the programme.”
Getting women into hospitality
Assia and her team have been working fast. “Since May 2017 together with Accenture and the Ghanaian government, we have been helping unemployed women from rural areas access vocational training and work experience in the UAE with a view to securing a job on their return home.”
Assia says that hotels in UAE face two major challenges, employee stagnation or high staff turnover before the completion of the probation period or within a year of employment. “Evolvin’ Women helps tackle both issues,” she explained.
“The women are engaged in roles which facilitate their long-term objectives upon returning to their home countries and with a two year turnover of participants we avoid the chance of stagnation. In addition, employers are able to embed social responsibility in their business models and move away from the traditional one-day CSR activity that generates very little or no impact at all.”
Success and responsibility
Due to Evolvin’ Women’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goals and their work in the field of equality of opportunity and inclusion, Assia has been appointed a member of the UAE task-force for the Seven Women’s Empowerment Principles, a collaboration between the UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact. Evolvin’ Women has also become one of the first microenterprises to join the United Nation Global Compact and was presented as a sustainable tourism initiative for women at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit organised in the UAE by NAMA and UN WOMEN, the African Women in Tourism Summit, the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai and at the ChangeNOW Summit in France where Evolvin’ Women was selected by the Dubai Government to represent them on sustainability.
How sponsorship makes a difference
It goes without saying that the work being done by Evolvin Women is crucial and can be of huge benefit to the hospitality industry worldwide.
As part of our Caterer.com and CatererGlobal sponsorship, our support will enable the sponsored person to have:
- Mentoring for the duration of the employment
- Five days of face-to-face training in home country, preparing the participant to secure a job through employability skills
- Online education for the duration of the programme through educational partners Accenture and Cudoo. Improving on competencies such as communication, confidence, customers focus
- In addition to the training provided by our hotel partners, one-day face-to-face training per month for the duration of the program.
- An introduction to Evolvin’ Women’s hotel partners in the UAE to secure a two-year work-experience and on-job training
- Economy class flights to and from the United Arab Emirates; Work visa for the duration of the employment; Medical cover; Shared accommodation (segregated by gender); Travel to and from their place of work; Competitive salary in line with job scope.
- An introduction to hotel partners in home country and facilitation of the interviews while participants are still in Dubai.
How you can get involved?
Assia is very excited about the future of Evolvin’ Women. “We have several plans, from increasing the number of participants to building our first Evolvin’ Communities Hub in Africa, which will be a physical space where participants returning home can develop sustainable tourism activities to generate new income for rural areas.”
Over the coming months, we will bring you updates from Evolvin’ Women and share stories of the great work they are achieving.
You can learn more about Evolvin’ Women at www.evolvinwomen.com