WEConnect's Elizabeth Vazquez: Empowering Women Business Owners Globally

This nonprofit's $7-billion corporate-member network helps women-owned suppliers from Mexico to Afghanistan.

Raised by a single mom with two kids, Elizabeth Vazquez understands better than most how vital it is for women to take control of their own destinies. She also has the perspective to see the global economic benefits of women successfully running their own businesses.

Vazquez is the President, CEO and co-founder of WEConnect International, a corporate-led nonprofit that helps women business owners succeed globally. WEConnect began four years ago as an outgrowth of WBENC (the U.S.–focused Women's Business Enterprise National Council).

Initial corporate supporters included Accenture, AT&T, Ernst & Young, HP, IBM, Pacific Gas & Electric, Verizon Communications and Walmart. Added to that roster are companies including The Coca-Cola Company, Cummins, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott International, Microsoft and WellPoint. Vazquez says the corporate-member network now represents more than $700 billion in annual purchasing power.

"The corporations actually created WEConnect because they saw such a need for women-owned suppliers. A lot of what we have been doing in the last three years especially is educating key stakeholders: governments that are supportive in creating an enabling environment, more corporations, NGOs working with our target market," she says.

WEConnect's main objectives have been outreach and on-the-ground events in targeted markets to engage with women business owners and train them to reach their full potential. "Now that we have this basic infrastructure, we are really poised for growth," she says.

That infrastructure includes certification standards for women-owned businesses in the United Kingdom, Canada, India, China, Mexico, Turkey, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Jamaica. Countries next on the list include Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa.

Some of the Western European countries, such as France, have been the hardest to reach because of their history of discouraging recognition of difference. "They don't want to single out people as different, but the fact is that women in Europe are not getting the same access to business as men," Vazquez notes.

WEConnect has been involved in a series of global events to connect corporations and governments with women suppliers. In November, the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum, held in Mexico City in cooperation with Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ProMéxico and the International Trade Centre, yielded more than 60 letters of intent on business worth more than $6 million in sales in a 48-hour period.

Right Leader to Jumpstart Organization

Vazquez's background helps her understand the global issues facing women business owners and corporations. Born in Mexico (her father was Mexican and her mother a white American), she moved to Arizona as a child with her mother and sister.

"My mom put herself through school. [She became a mental-health therapist.] She was my role model," Vazquez says.

Vazquez was pre-law when she realized, in her last year of college, that the legal system "is a very long process" and she wanted faster results. Two of her professors thought she could be an international Woodrow Wilson Fellow, so she was accepted into The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she studied development economics and international negotiations.

"It was an amazing two years with people from all over the world in the program representing their governments. My first week I was in a constitutional-law class with a guy who wrote the constitution of his country," she recalls.

At a conference on women entrepreneurs, she "went from thinking of women as victims to seeing them as really powerful players. It was a totally different way of looking at international relations and economic development relative to women."

Her current emphasis is on expanding WEConnect to new markets, growing the database of women, and training and mentoring thousands of women-owned businesses. This means a lot of travel, and her 6-year-old daughter is often on board. "She has been to more countries than she is years old. She's a flexible kid who has given me a lot of support," says Vazquez, who also credits her husband, a banker, with sharing the childcare duties.

Accenture Names First Woman As US Group Chief Executive

Accenture named Julie Spellman Sweet to head its U.S. operations. As of next month, four of the six major consulting firms will have women leaders.

Accenture's announcement that Julie Spellman Sweet has been promoted to Group Chief Executive-North America means that as of next month, four of the six major consulting firms will have women leaders (Deloitte, IBM and KPMG are the others).

Read More Show Less

McDonald's CEO to Retire; Black Fortune 500 CEOs Decline by 33% in Past Year

DiversityInc Top 50 companies remain ahead of the Fortune 500 when it comes to having members of underrepresented groups as CEOs.


Read More Show Less

Wells Fargo Names Michelle Lee Top East Coast Community Banking Exec

Michelle Lee, who had been the company's Northeast community banking chief, is a prime example of successful talent development at Wells Fargo.

Michelle Lee didn't plan on being a banker. Now, she's about to become one of the most influential bankers in the country.

Read More Show Less

VIDEO: A Conversation With Warner Baxter, CEO, Ameren

How did Ameren, the utility company that services Ferguson, Missouri, help residents cope with the turbulence around them? Ameren's CEO Warner L. Baxter talked with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti about community support and the value of diversity and inclusion to Ameren's future at DiversityInc's October event.

Read More Show Less

VIDEO: How to Develop a Global Supplier Diversity Initiative

Can supplier diversity work outside of the United States? Yes, provided it is implemented with local cultural competence in mind, says Elizabeth Vasquez, President and CEO, WEConnect International, at DiversityInc's October event.

Read More Show Less

WEConnect International Day at WBENC - June 22, Philadelphia

Attention, women business owners! Don't miss this exclusive opportunity to network with your peers from around the world as well as executives from top multinational corporations!

Attention, women business owners! Don't miss this exclusive opportunity to network with your peers from around the world as well as executives from top multinational corporations!

Read More Show Less

NEW YORK, Sept. 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --

Read More Show Less