Elizabeth A. Vazquez, CEO and Co-founder of WEConnect International, says that working with India and its women entrepreneurs has been an exceptional experience.
Here in Bengaluru for the ThinkBig 2016 Summit, Asia’s largest women entrepreneurship platform, Vazquez spoke to YourStory on a host of issues confronting women and why they should grab the opportunities offered by WEConnect.
What does WEConnect do?
We are a Washington DC-based global non-profit started in 2009. We connect women-owned businesses with the global market. As global corporations want to buy from them, we just leverage their purchasing power. We work to develop the capacity of our partners, and we also certify them.
While global corporations buy products and services worth $1 trillion every year, only as little as one percent of that is bought from women. Accessing women-owned businesses is very difficult for them, and this is where WeConnect comes into the picture.
First time in Bengaluru
ThinkBig has become an annual conference, and this is the fourth edition in India and the first in Bengaluru.
We have many partners, such as state governments in India, business federations, the UNDP, the ILO, Fair Trade UK, the World Bank, Smile Train and Nasscom 10,000 Startups, to name a few. And, the event is supported by Toyota, Canara Bank, Intel, Tata, Volvo, Coke, Oyo Rooms, Syndicate Bank, Shell and a host of others. While some organisations are already working with women, we complement them and find these women new markets and business opportunities. We help them scale up as we want them to have a global connection.
The Indian experience has been exceptional. The businesses here are mostly small and in the informal sector. At the other end of the spectrum, there are women who run large businesses and perhaps even inherited them. But when they diversify into newer areas, they do take a huge risk.
Startups are exciting. I love to see disruptive innovation. It is exciting to witness entrepreneurs deal with and develop solutions, including in technology. In Bengaluru, there is exceptional work being done by startups. People are educated and very entrepreneurial. They are present in growth-oriented sectors.
On the Karnataka government
I am happy to see that the Government of Karnataka is invested in women. It is the government that helps with things like seed money, which helps women grow not just financially but in confidence as well. We need to invest in their idea. SMEs are very important and need encouragement. Special thanks to the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board, Karnataka Small Scale Industries Development Corporation and Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited.
Reduce barriers, provide opportunity
WEConnect reduces all barriers and provides opportunities. The scale of this Bengaluru event demonstrates that we can collaborate and maximise opportunities. It results in expanded knowledge, networking and business opportunity.
At WEConnect, we give our partners a Women-owned logo. Our experience with Walmart shows that their customers prefer products with women-owned logos, which is a great thing for us.
Numbers tell the story
We have 6,000 women businesses on our list and over 100 corporations, 75 multinational ones, who buy from them. In fact, these corporations want to buy more, and tech giant Intel has set itself a target of buying for up to $1 billion from this network by 2020. The benefits of this huge market that we offer trickles down the value chain.
Co-opetition the new word
Of course, there are several women’s groups doing similar things. Whenever these groups have bid for a large business, they have understood that co-opetition is better than competition. Co-opetition is where the competitors come together to supply their goods, instead of fighting the bid and losing out.
WEConnect works with organisations in 100 countries, benefiting millions of women directly and indirectly. In ThinkBig 2016, we have women participants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal , Bhutan, the US, the UK, Canada, Tanzania, Hong Kong, China, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, the UAE and Singapore, apart from 19 Indian states.
Top 10 businesses
The top 10 products and services that WEConnect’s clients look for, both in India and in the 100 countries we work in, are Infotech and related fields, human resources, public relations, media, legal services, manufacturing, garments, food and beverages, hospitality and textiles.