Good Business-The Potential of Women-Owned Enterprises: Global Corporations Are Learning That Buying from Businesses Owned by Women Is Vital for Economic Growth. Initiatives like WEConnect International Are Providing the Essential Link

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The contribution that women business owners can make to the growth of the global economy was recognized at the ITC's World Export Development Forum in 2008. The event included a panel on the business case for why corporations and governments should increase the level of participation of women-owned businesses in their supply chains.

Although a great deal has been done to support women's entrepreneurship at the start-up level, the "Billion Dollar Roundtable" (the top 13 multinational corporations that purchase over $1 billion each per year from diverse suppliers) spend only 2.2% on women-owned businesses. WEConnect International estimates that less than 5% of corporate or government spending in any country goes to women-owned businesses. This clearly identifies an area of underutilized economic growth potential.

WEConnect International is leading the strategy for unleashing the economic potential of women business owners through certification and market access. This initiative is led by global corporations including Accenture, AT&T, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Manpower, Motorola, Pfizer, Wal-Mart and other companies. Its mission is to develop and monitor global opportunities for women's business enterprises.

Like all business people, what women entrepreneurs want most is to sell their products and services. They need better access to models for growth, including how to sell into large corporate and government supply chains. Working with women business owners to increase their capacity to network and scale up their operations is the critical missing link for real job creation and economic impact.

Many multinational corporations want to diversify their global supplier base to reflect their market and customer base, increase shareholder value and enhance competitive advantage. Of the Fortune 500 companies, 97% have supplier diversity programmes to source from historically underutilized businesses. With the trend towards contract bundling, over 80% of these corporations now require supplier diversity efforts from their tier one and tier two suppliers.

Women as suppliers

Large corporations want straightforward access to the best of everything. Small businesses are a good source of innovation, creativity, competitive pricing and quick and agile business practices. Their participation in supply chains introduces new competition to existing suppliers. Including women-owned businesses in this arena brings particular value, as women make the majority of consumer decisions and understand the market requirements. In addition, women are particularly loyal to corporations that understand their needs. Buying from women-owned businesses unlocks not only women's potential, but also the potential of corporations and governments.

It's essential that organizations and governments collaborate to ensure the pool of women suppliers can keep pace with demand. Technology will play an increasingly important role in enabling access to the large number of excellent diverse suppliers, in a sustainable and cost-effective way. WEConnect International is providing that important link.

Case study: AT&T

AT&T is the largest telecommunications holding company in the world by revenue, and prides itself on its Supplier Diversity programmes. In 1989 it implemented the Prime Supplier programme, which has expanded opportunities for women's businesses by requiring AT&T prime suppliers to join them in meeting supplier diversity goals. In 1990, it began partnering with university business schools to establish and promote executive training programmes specifically for diversity-owned companies to help them improve their competitiveness. Today AT&T continues to increase diversity though contracting in low utilization areas such as wireless, advertising, legal, finance and other professional services. …