Women's Economic Empowerment Key to Alleviating Poverty

By Elizabeth A. Vazquez, CEO and Co-Founder, WEConnect International

Around the globe, women and girls make up 70 percent of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, and the key to addressing this issue begins with their economic empowerment. Business ownership is a powerful vehicle for women to build more assets, but, perhaps more importantly, investing in women yields high returns in poverty alleviation, economic growth and a country’s general prosperity and stability.

Why? Investing in women produces a multiplier effect, as women reinvest a large portion of their income into their communities. Women business owners employ people in their communities, support a sustainable environment, and raise healthy families.

Collaborating with the private sector is of course crucial in this effort, but empowering women is also beneficial to corporations. Women make the vast majority of purchasing decisions. By diversifying their supplier base to reflect their markets, corporations can increase shareholder value and enhance competitive advantage by anticipating the needs of all of their customers. Forward-thinking companies that want to remain relevant and profitable look for suppliers that truly represent their customer base.

With this in mind, five years ago we founded WEConnect International to help women-owned businesses based outside of the United States succeed in global value chains. We identify and certify growth-oriented women’s enterprises that want to do business with large organizations. In certifying those businesses and making them visible to major corporations, WEConnect International plays a key role in beginning to close the access to markets gap for women globally.

We cannot be content to only provide networking opportunities between women’s business enterprises and corporations, though. One of the major obstacles facing women business owners is lack of training. Business knowledge, including financial tools and leadership training, can help women grow their companies, create wealth, and deliver jobs. It is for this reason that we coach women business owners on how to scale their operation and sell successfully to lure regional and global buyers. This year, with support from our corporate members and partners, we have provided on-site training opportunities to certified and self-registered women business owners in over a dozen countries.

It is also important for the private and public sectors to be proactive in increasing spend with women’s business enterprises. In 2012 at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York City, a ‘Commitment to Action’ was launched to address the challenges associated with advancing and promoting women in a competitive global economy. This commitment to action, led by WEConnect International and Vital Voices, brings together a variety of partners to integrate more women-owned businesses into corporate value chains with the goal of facilitating and tracking a total of US$1.5 billion in spend by the Commitment makers by 2018.

The response from the private sector has been inspiring. WEConnect International Corporate Member Sodexo was recently recognized at the 2014 CGI Annual Meeting for supporting small to medium size enterprises (SMEs), including women-owned businesses, with US$1 billion in spend by 2017. WEConnect International will work with Sodexo in supporting women-owned businesses in targeted countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, Peru, Chile, and India.

Walmart has created similar goals, aiming to double its sourcing from women-owned businesses outside of the U.S. by 2016. Additionally, the corporation is eager to raise awareness. This year, Walmart, WEConnect International, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) collaborated on the ‘Women Owned Logo’ to bring consumer recognition of products created by women-owned businesses on store shelves both in the U.S. and international markets. The goal of the new logo is to make consumers around the world aware of the great products made by women, and in turn help these women continue to grow their businesses.

We all vote for the kind of world we want whenever we make a purchase. Through long-term collaboration, the public and private sectors can prepare women to grow their businesses and enter the global market, while actively encouraging consumers to support women’s business enterprises. In this way, we will all play a role in alleviating poverty and growing economies worldwide.

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