WASHINGTON, DC, April 2020 – As the CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International, I get to do what I love—build relationships and connect people for impact. I’ve travelled the world to meet with local and global value chain players including large buyers, strategic partners and dynamic women business owners offering a diverse array of goods and services.
I’m used to meeting with a lot of different people face-to-face each week, which is great because it is how I love to learn by observing what is most impactful and scalable. But like most people, my travel schedule has stopped because of COVID-19 and I’m working remotely from home. While the transition has been wonderful for family time and the environment, I do feel a sense of urgency to do more now than ever.
Now is the time when buyers and women suppliers need us most and our team of experts based all over the world are working together to leverage technology and build a new online platform to make it even easier for buyers and suppliers to connect. Our list of over 100 member buyers is growing fast and we just added Jones Lang LaSalle, Medtronic and Nippon Seiki. And we have more than 10,000 suppliers that have registered with us online as women-owned businesses based in 120+ countries.
Our annual International Gala was slated for earlier this month, but rather than cancelling the event, we created our first-ever, 24-hour Cyber Gala. The virtual celebration featured multi-media from our award winners, insights from our member buyers and partners, success stories from our women-owned businesses and mission moments from our dedicated team. The event culminated with the announcement of our 2020 Top 10 Global Champions for Supplier Diversity and Inclusion. And our annual Global Supplier Diversity and Inclusion Symposium also went virtual for the first time.
The huge success of these two online global events demonstrated to us that leveraging technology was not only an incredible tool to come together, but also a means to find out 1) how our buyers and suppliers are being affected by the current crisis and 2) what support they needed to survive and thrive.
This month, WEConnect International launched our quarterly COVID-19 Survey with responses collected from almost 600 Women-Owned Businesses from around the world. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of those surveyed have been affected negatively by COVID-19 with 90 percent experiencing a decrease in sales and revenues. Many of them are adjusting their products or services to remain relevant in the changing economic climate and are trying to secure financing so that they can stay operational.
The good news is that women business owners are refocusing their businesses to adapt. Fifty-four percent have cut unnecessary expenses; 42 percent have shifted to a digital model; and 37 percent are growing in response to local or global needs.
I’m constantly in awe of how women business owners are taking charge and reinventing themselves. Take the case of Ngozi Oyewole in Nigeria, who used technology and her expertise in the oil and gas safety equipment supply sector to take a stand against COVID-19. Her company, Noxie Limited, was able to produce a wide range of affordable products, including KN95 face masks, PPEs and cleaning solutions.
The current pandemic will continue to challenge us all in the coming weeks and months, and as we shift from battling Coronavirus to recovery, women-owned businesses will continue to be a critical engine for economic growth and job creation. Leveraging technology and embracing supplier diversity and inclusion will help ensure businesses owned by women and other diverse suppliers recover faster and stronger and help us all rebuild a more resilient global economy.
Elizabeth A. Vazquez
CEO and Co-Founder, WEConnect International
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