Last week, I had the privilege of attending a forum and exhibition in Mexico City focused on helping women entrepreneurs to find access to large markets through government procurement and multinational buyers. The meeting was held under the auspices of the International Trade Centre, as part of the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors.
Now, the name “Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors” is awkward. So, let me explain what is behind it. This “global platform” is essentially a group of people dedicated to increasing the number of women-owned businesses who can sell large quantities of goods to big buyers, like governments and corporations. Such exchanges are extremely lucrative and it is estimated that fewer than 1% of all such contracts go to women, worldwide.
So, it’s a big deal. But the work is just getting started. This “global platform” group is pushing forward what might seem like a painfully unlikely agenda–except that they have some very powerful institutions behind them and some very passionate and smart people leading the movement. They met for the first time in Chongqing, China, in September 2010. Twenty seven representatives of select Fortune 500 companies, as well as governments and institutions were at that meeting. They developed a 10-year strategy to increase the share of corporate, government and institutional procurement from women vendors.
The corporate members of “the Platform” represent annual procurement spending in excess of USD700 billion. This group also includes a sellers’ network of more than 50,000 business and professional women–and a growing number of trade-support institutions, including the International Trade Center itself.
The enthusiasm of this group was infectious and the level of dialog stimulating. The forum assembled at Mexico City included high level policy people, major corporate representatives, national women’s entrepreneurship leaders, as well as many individual entrepreneurs, who came in hopes of meeting a buyer who would sign a big contract.
I was just there to observe and to formulate recommendations for moving forward. I concluded that this group has a profound mission and many challenges facing them, but some very good ideas and forms emerging. Some of the challenges include:
–Getting a handle on the total universe of potential women vendors and trying to register them in some way.
–Providing sector-appropriate training so that women vendors can compete with male owners who already have experience and connections.
–Finding suitable ways of matching suppliers with appropriate buyers across a staggering array of sectors and sizes.
–Designing ways to communicate opportunities that will be accessible and comprehensible to women in many walks of life, who speak different languages, and have different skills levels.
–Helping to create funding and contract mechanisms that will allow women, who frequently have difficulty getting financing, to fulfill large contracts.
These challenges are daunting, to say the least. But we found several groups in attendance who were making important strides in the right direction. In particular, WEConnect International, Full Circle Exchange, and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance stood out as promising efforts. I will be writing a bit about each of them in the weeks to come.
Overall, however, this group has taken on an important global mission, one that is not getting as much attention as it should. I was glad to see that so much power and passion was being put behind it.