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Business unusual

08 May 2012

As part of a number of Westpac initiatives for May 2012 around women and business and women business owners, our Woman at Work piece with the cofounder and CEO of WEConnect International, Elizabeth Vazquez introduces a whole new concept in economic development and diversity. Here we give you a glimpse into the future…

Elizabeth Vazquez is in Australia in May to launch WEConnect Australasia. The Westpac Group is one of the founding corporate members for the local chapter of the organisation of which Elizabeth is the CEO.

WEConnect focusses on markets where its corporate partners are already actively sourcing products and services. The basic structure of WEConnect is to serve women in businesses, to educate them and develop their capacity and give them access to markets they wouldn’t otherwise have. The women owned businesses are often well established, and looking to take the next step.

WEConnect relies heavily on a close collaboration with the existing support infrastructure for women-owned businesses in a country. The first thing WEConnect did in Australia was to map the ecosystem and start to build partnerships with all relevant local and national support organizations in the public sector and private sector. 

WEConnect in Australasia will offer trainings focussed on scaling up, building strategic relationships, and planning for growth. Its supplier readiness assessment will evaluate a company’s current capacity and provide customized recommendations for specific interventions.

According to WEConnect’s Elizabeth Vazquez, any business owner with access to the WEConnect International website may self-register her business for free via the online global application. 

 It is important that the businesses WEConnect supports are accurately identified as at least 51per cent owned, managed and controlled by one or more women, because its corporate members need to be able to reliably count their gender spend, as well as track and measure data on women in enterprise over time on a global basis. 

Certification is an important second step to self registering and requires the submission of detailed business information, plus a site visit by a trained local WEConnect assessor to verify the accuracy of the information submitted. 

WEConnect encourages women businesses to self-certify and from there receive a fully verified certification. Some of the inspiring and ongoing work WEConnect does to fulfil its mandate include such projects as this one in India:

WEConnect International is working with The World Bank, Accenture, the ITC, and India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). SEWA works with women entrepreneurs in the informal sector. These women are generally poor, illiterate, and vulnerable. Program partners are working together at a local level to develop the skills of hundreds of members of SEWA Gitanjali’s waste-pickers – women who pick up scraps of paper. The continuing objective of all involved is to develop a sustainable income and improved livelihood prospects by training and engaging the SEWA members in the production and marketing of office products made from 100% recycled paper. The project has already resulted in input wastage reduction by 88%, manufacturing cost reduction by 33%, productivity increase by 10 times, and earnings increase by 10 times now that SEWA Gitanjali is a competitively priced supplier to Accenture.

For more information: www.weconnectinternational.org 

(If you have a nascent business idea and want to develop it, Westpac’s Davidson Institute offers courses for business owners and those thinking of beginning an enterprise to learn the basics. Browse around the business and personal areas – it’s a great way to start – at: www.davidsoninstitute.edu.au)

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