Elizabeth A. Vazquez
BFP: What do you do?
EV: As the CEO of the global non-profit WEConnect International, I am responsible for mission delivery and impact. At WEConnect International, we help women-owned businesses succeed in global value chains, by identifying, educating, registering, and certifying women's business enterprises based outside of the U.S. that are at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women. We then connect them with multinational corporate buyers with over $700 billion in annual purchasing power.
BFP: What is the best part about your job/project?
EV: I firmly believe that you have to be passionate about what you do and remember how lucky you are to get to do the work. As CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International, I’ve met thousands of women business owners in every region of the world who care deeply about their companies and their communities. When they share their stories with me, I know that our work together to grow companies and create jobs is not easy, but important.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
EV: With WEConnect International, there weren’t a lot of organizational models we could follow outside of the United States, so we had to take a lot of risks and try new things knowing that some of it would fail. There is a lot riding on how to build a sustainable not for profit model, and we want to make sure that the time and resources invested will lead to impact and success. One of the greatest challenges in our first five years has been building a team that can support a network of local representatives in several of the world’s most complex economies—Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, etc.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What has been the secret of your success? / What advice can you give others?
EV: Collaboration is key. WEConnect International wouldn’t be as successful if it were not for some of the biggest corporations in the world coming together with the commitment to source more inclusively from women suppliers. My job was to build a global network capable of leveraging this amazing corporate commitment. We work with women business owners, senior policy officials, multilateral organizations, business associations, and other NGOs that help to make trade and economic development possible. It’s important to remember that you can’t fight poverty alone or from behind a desk. You have to be out there in the markets, listening, observing, changing. Knowing how and when to pivot when something can be improved is crucial.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
EV: If you’re willing to take risks and be creative, your potential in this field is limitless. Being curious and humble is very important because you need to always ask for the advice and guidance of those who came before you and of those you want to serve. You have to put yourself in very uncomfortable situations and spend time with people you do not yet know or understand. You have to be open to looking at the world from a range of lenses and be empathetic to why things are the way they are, while also channeling your frustration in a positive direction towards collective action.
BFP: Finally, What do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
EV: I’m excited to be a part of a large global community dedicated to leveraging market based solutions in the fight against poverty. BFP heightens our awareness of the complexity of the issues, and by drawing from each other’s ideas, successes, and failures, we can all be more effective in our work to end poverty.
Thank you to Elizabeth Vazquez for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.