Paris: Welcome to Women4Climate's #WomenCrushWednesday Series - Interview with Ai Loan & Fanny Giansetto

Women4Climate - #WomenCrushWednesday Series

We wish to highlight women leaders among the Women4Climate community who are doing exemplary work to support communities in these difficult times. The idea behind this digital series is to highlight the incredible work done by the Women4Climate community, in their own words. For this, we thank the Parisian Women4Climate members, Ai Loan, Founder of Sezono, and Fanny Giansetto, Founder of Ecotable, for agreeing to become a part of this, and for answering a few questions about their inspiring work and the “Food For Hospitals” campaign in Paris. 

W4C - What's the story behind your project and what inspired you to start it?

Ai Loal - The main mission of Sezono is to be able to bring sustainable food to the table – my  inspiration to start this project was to make sustainable food easily accessible and most delicious, otherwise it is considered very inaccessible because of the sometimes high priced raw material and has the image of something not easily preferred. I wanted to not only do that, but also cook the best, most delicious food!

I cannot say there was a very specific trigger for me to start, but an accumulation of signals around climate change that really made me feel the necessity to take action and create Sezono three years ago. It was originally started as just a catering service - which was to provide sustainable food to companies and private units such as families with a purely zero waste approach. I am happy to say that three months ago, I got the keys to my future restaurant - which will be a fully functional kitchen for catering services and an eatery for people to come and enjoy sustainable food.

Fanny Giansetto - It all started back in 2017 when I got back from a trip to South America. I was keen to do something significant about climate change, majorly on the impact of the food system and start something of my own, involving restaurants. I started a company with two of my friends - Écotable – that promotes and supports the eco-responsible approach of the various local restaurants (such as Sezono) and local shops. We created a certification permitting people to choose restaurants on environmental criteria on our website.

But this was not enough. We realised that restaurants needed their exchange platform in order to facilitate the ecological transition. To do this, we have created an association – The Ecotable community - which provides an exchange platform, tools and even collective training to give ecology the place it deserves. In simple words, our community raises awareness of the challenges of sustainable food through regular events so that restaurateurs, service providers and consumers meet and that everyone's commitments are shared for the benefit of all. We are grateful for the support we have received from C40 Women4Climate in the development of the company (Ecotable) and the association (The Ecotable community). 

I was also inspired by Vandana Shiva - she was and is my role model. From reading about her work for many years, I realised how far we are from the desired ecological transition - at least back in France we are far behind from where we want to be. So, I didn't really have a choice but to take action and do something."

W4C - You’re based in Paris, one of the most severely affected cities in Europe by the global health crisis. How did you successfully mobilised your community to support the hospital staff working tirelessly on COVID-19 response in such a short span of time? Can you share one take away from that experience that may change you forever?

Ai Loan and Fanny Giansetto - To be honest, it is still something that surprises us - how quickly and efficiently we were able to execute the Food For Hospitals campaign. I think the motivation behind starting it that we wanted to be selfless for a time and do something for our community, and together with other organisations, from across the food chain. When the confinement due to COVID-19 was announced, we got together with various organisations, such as ourselves, and food producers, chefs and the like to be able to provide delicious food to the frontline workers - the caregivers and all of the hospital staff. It started with one of us receiving a message from the hospital that they were struggling for food as the supply was not meeting the high demand. And that was it! Two days later, the Ecotable community get together with ten restaurant owners on a video call- and decided to start solidarity campaign which will be for everyone to contribute towards - which resulted in starting a fundraising campaign (Please note it is now over) and from there we never looked back, and in two months’ time we were to provide over 800 meals per day to the hospital staff and raise much more funding and resources than we originally planned for!

W4C - Why was it so successful? 

Ai Loan and Fanny Giansetto - Soon after starting the campaign, we realised people were very eager to do something for the hospital staff at the time of a global crisis. We had communication experts in our team and we decided to publish the call for support in newspapers for wider outreach in addition to reaching out to some fundraising experts to help us with it. In the end, we received 50% funding from private organisations and 50% from the public. Overall, we received more than 300K Euros.

We prepared a total of 29,500 meals over a period of 8 weeks; almost 13,000 meals were financed by the crowdfunding campaign and the rest were financed by private and public foundations - we are very grateful to them and everyone else who came forward and supported us. 

We were a total of 15 people involved in the coordination of the project (13 women), and more than 70 volunteers came to help us in the kitchen.

W4C - Your main takeaway from this?

Ai Loan and Fanny Giansetto - We are so happy and proud of the fact that we were to build something so powerful and impactful together with so many other organisations in a short span of time - we were able to find chefs, sourcing organisations, food producers, recipes, a fully equipped kitchen, volunteers to deliver the first set of meals within five or six days - and as a result we all learned some crucial set of skills which was an exceptional take away for us.

Each one of us has a usual commercial activity otherwise that we indulge in, in normal times. What is surprising is that in a very short time - we could build something with a lasting unifying impact, and we were able to strengthen bonds and bring communities together in troubled times. We learned that when you work on solidarity initiatives, you receive a lot more support than expected. We all met and created this network which is only going to get stronger with time.

One of the most powerful takeaways from the campaign was being able to help the food producers at a time when their work had completely stopped. When we started to contact them, spoke about the initiative, they thought it was voluntary but when we told them we will pay them they were very happy as it is a very hard period for them because the distribution to the restaurants has completely ended for now. So, we needed each other and it was a very powerful and valuable initiative for everyone. We are so delighted to have experienced such a strong communal bond in difficult times through this campaign. 

Our message to everyone reading this is that we all need to come together in the time of such a huge crisis and work with each other - we really need to learn to keep this achievement to capitalise in the future. If this kind of crisis were to happen again, we now know that to put our self-interest away for a time and get people together to do something meaningful can be a very powerful deed.

Another interesting finding of this campaign was that when we put solidarity at the heart of a campaign, it naturally turns out that we were all women who ended up in the capacity of leadership in the campaign! To give you another example, at Ecotable - there is parity between men and women staff and additionally most sustainable restaurants here in France are managed by women. But otherwise all big chains and restaurants (or most of them) are mostly managed by men - it makes us wonder why that is? Well, we are glad that Ecotable is setting a good example for everyone!

All photographs above are by Mika Cotellon

W4C - What message do you have from your own journey of being a Women4Climate, for aspiring women leaders working towards a sustainable, greener and an ever-unpredictable future?

Ai Loan and Fanny Giansetto - This crisis is a unique opportunity for us all to change old habits - to do something substantial regarding the ecological transition and the climate emergency! The next crisis may come from how we treat the existing food system; how we treat animals; how we use pesticides on vegetables. What is most important is to learn from such an impactful experience and to take action! 

If we wanted to do this project perfectly, we wouldn't have achieved anything so quickly. The urgency to make it happen and make an impact was stronger than achieving anything else for us. 

We need to understand that failure is a great teacher. It makes you take action again and again - and to not give up until you get it right. 

We are very proud to be a part of the C40 Women4Climate community and have learned and benefited a lot from it. We encourage you to not dread the unpredictable future and waste time, but to take action while you can!