Anniversaries always offer a great opportunity to pause and reflect on past accomplishments while still keeping an eye on the road ahead.
When I co-founded WEConnect International in 2009, we had a home office and no support staff. I was armed with a little bit of seed funding and a firm conviction that empowering women through business ownership is a critical tool for getting more money/power into the hands of women.
While it is true that not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, approximately 187 million women do own businesses across the world. Women business owners who want to grow their companies deserve access to the resources that will allow them to compete on an even playing field with men. Global supplier diversity and inclusion is unleashing the power of women by helping them to compete for larger contracts as an underutilized group. When women compete for and win business, they create jobs, generate wealth, and contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of their communities.
A handful of corporate pioneers understood the importance of buying more solutions from women suppliers and became founding members of WEConnect International–Accenture, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Boeing, Cisco Systems, EY, HP, IBM, Intel, Manpower, Motorola, Pfizer, PG&E, Verizon and Walmart.
However, as with most groundbreaking ideas, having it catch fire was not easy. Most organizations did not understand why they should be inclusive in their sourcing practices if they want to innovate and better anticipate the dynamic needs of their customers. In country after country, the women business owners were not thinking big enough and their business support organizations were not well connected to markets or actual buyers. WEConnect International spent a lot of time and resources on educating supply and demand on how to work together to create shared value.
The question of “Why should I do this?” was asked hundreds of times in every country we visited. That question was always met with another question: “Why wouldn’t you want to get more money into the hands of women if it will also benefit you?”
Little by little, the concept is sinking in. Women’s access to markets through global supplier diversity and inclusion is becoming an obvious opportunity to create tangible and sustainable improvements in the lives of women and the communities women serve, which are the same communities that large organizations want to sell to.
As WEConnect International prepares to celebrate our fifth birthday at the end of 2014, the old paradigm is definitely shifting from “Why?” to “How?” WEConnect International now trains and certifies women’s business enterprises in 16 countries and has thousands of businesses from over 70 countries inside our searchable online database. Many of the women are already doing business with large corporations, and they are also sharing their experiences, creating local and global opportunities through peer networking, and acquiring new skills inside the WEConnect Academy.
As we update our business plan for the next five years, it will be important to partner with strong organizations that can help us capitalize on this evolution to create sustainable positive change through supplier inclusion. The annual Power Shift Forum for Women in the World Economy hosted by Oxford is a powerful platform for convening and discussing the “how” we will all work together to connect a global village of committed champions for change. How will you connect?
*About the author: Elizabeth A. Vazquez is the CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International, a corporate led non-profit that helps to empower women business owners to succeed in global markets. She was born in Mexico, has a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University where she studied development economics, and is a world leader in global supplier diversity and inclusion.