April 22, 2022

Rise to the Challenge Awards: Reflecting on 2021 and Looking Ahead to 2022

By: WEConnect International Intern Evelina Dahlgren

As a young professional woman early in my career, I find last year’s Rise to the Challenge global and sector award winners to be truly inspiring. These women-owned businesses exemplify resilience, perseverance and a vision crucial for overcoming barriers to accessing global value chains.

Unfortunately, the corporate climate of today still includes biases and discrimination that prevent female leaders from progressing in the corporate world. However, the sector finalists bring me hope by proving that these barriers can be torn down and that investment in women undoubtedly yields high economic returns.

Last year’s WEConnect International Rise to the Challenge Awards emphasized innovative women-owned businesses in the STEM and sustainability sectors. From a record number of strong and qualified applications, WEConnect International announced one global award winner and eight sector award winners.

Planet Protector Packaging, a high-performing and sustainable thermal packaging solution, won WEConnect International’s global award prize; and Founder and CEO Joanne Howarth’s entrepreneurial journey is inspiring for several reasons. Planet Protector Packaging has brought outstanding financial returns to stakeholders while keeping environmental responsibility as the guiding compass of their work and mission. Since 2016, Planet Protector Packaging has removed 4,000 tons of waste wool from landfills and has eliminated 8 million polystyrene boxes from supply chains, while simultaneously generating $7.5 million in revenues for sheep farmers. Howarth is driving positive climate and economic change on a global and a local level. This is the type of company we should rally behind.

Another outstanding sector winner of the 2021 Rise to the Challenge Awards is Lonadek Global Services in Nigeria. Lonadek is a women-owned engineering company leveraging innovative technology to maximize productivity and profitability while simultaneously bridging the gender gap in the male-dominated STEM field. Lonadek has identified and developed thousands of female STEM talents through innovative tech learning solutions. Dr. Ibilola Amao, the principal consultant of Lonadek, has been integral to this work. She has experienced gender-related stereotypes and discrimination throughout her career and is dedicated to mentoring future women in STEM. Dr. Amao is not only a leader but also a trailblazer for breaking gender bias in the workplace.

The stories of Planet Protector Packaging and Lonadek give me hope that the gender inequality in the current corporate landscape is transforming. These are just two examples of how everyone benefits when women can participate in the economy; and this reality is backed by McKinsey research showing that global GDP will rise by $28 trillion if more women participate in the economy. Unfortunately, however, even though supplier diversity is proven to yield higher profits, companies are not sufficiently engaging with diverse vendors. Currently, women own about 30% of all private businesses worldwide but receive less than 1% of large corporate and government spending. Inclusive procurement is not simply about maintaining high moral and ethical standards—it is an opportunity for large corporations to increase their economic output and to better the world economy at large.

We need to do better, and doing so will result in more stories like those of Joanne Howarth and Dr. Ibilola Amao. I’m excited to see more of these stories showcased through this year’s 2022 WEConnect International Rise to the Challenge Awards.