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Highlight: IDRC hosts WEConnect CEO for panel on empowering women entrepreneurs

April 15, 2016

Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO of WEConnect International, was welcomed as the lead speaker on a panel on empowering women entrepreneurs at IDRC in Ottawa on March 24, 2015.

Vazquez is a world leader in global supplier diversity and co-founder of WEConnect International. WEConnect is a non-profit that helps to empower women business owners to succeed in global markets by connecting them to corporate supply chains.

“There are so many opportunities for women entrepreneurs and business owners around the world,” said Vazquez. “If only we can find these women, and give them access to knowledge and the networks to expand their businesses from a start-up in the informal sector into something where they can actually create jobs for others and for their communities.”

Helping women entrepreneurs in India

IDRC recently announced a CA$560,000 grant to WEConnect International to help deliver market access training, and collect, maintain, and analyze data on more than 500 women-owned businesses in India.

The grant aims to address the significant constraints that women business owners face in India. With few jobs in the formal economy, most women work in the informal sector where they face higher market access challenges than their male counterparts. There are insufficient resources in place to help women grow their businesses and connect with large, international corporations, and little is known about how to promote the development of women-owned businesses. Despite these factors, entrepreneurship presents a unique opportunity for women in India.

“In many places where IDRC works, the formal sectors of the economy are never going to be able to generate jobs on the scale that is needed to pull people out of poverty,” said Stephen McGurk, IDRC’s Vice-President of Programs and Partnerships. “We have to look at self-employment and entrepreneurship, particularly for women, as one of the key elements to enable them to transform their own lives.”

The IDRC grant enables WEConnect to use its data to create new knowledge about women’s economic empowerment and the growth of women-owned businesses in India.

"With IDRC’s support, WEConnect International will now be able to build upon the data that we currently have, which is mostly useful for corporations, and expand our collection efforts to make the data useful for developing small and medium enterprises,” said panelist Astrid Pregel, WEConnect International co-founder and executive director.

WEConnect International will eventually use the data collection and analysis model developed through this project across its network to generate knowledge that can inform policy and research on women’s entrepreneurship.

Diversity good for corporate bottom line and small businesses

Panellist Jenny Greiser, Walmart’s Senior Director for Women’s Economic Empowerment, made it clear that supplier diversity is also good for a corporation’s bottom line. She gave examples of Walmart’s efforts to increase women-owned suppliers.

Barbara Orser, Professor in management of growth enterprises at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, explained that corporations with diverse supply chains can rely on small firms to move products faster, deliver at lower costs, and be more flexible than traditional suppliers. Supplier diversity also helps corporations enhance their relations in foreign markets and establish credibility in local communities.

About WEConnect

WEConnect International has a presence in 18 countries, where local assessors carry out enterprise certification visits at women-owned businesses. They verify ownership, management, and control of businesses before adding them to the WEConnect eNetwork database. With close to 5,000 self-registered and certified women-owned businesses in almost 90 countries, the database is updated annually to track the performance of women-owned businesses around the world.

Learn more about:

IDRC’s grant to WEConnect for the project “Growing Women-Owned Businesses in India by Building on Private Sector Initiatives”

The Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women program

WEConnect International

Louis Turcotte is an Ottawa-based writer.