Woman to Woman: Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship Through the Power of the Purse

There’s a well-known saying that if you truly wish to support a cause you should “put your money where your mouth is” – meaning not only that talk means little without action to back it up, but that supporting a cause financially beats verbal praise alone.

So it is as well with women’s entrepreneurship: one of the best ways that women-owned firms can be supported is by purchasing their products and services.
pink purse
This pursuit is becoming easier for women-owned purveyors of consumer products through a growing number of online marketplaces focused solely or predominantly on products made by women-owned firms. Perhaps the most well-known is etsy.com, geared toward smaller scale handmade goods, but there are others recently coming online:

  • ananasa.com, an online marketplace based in the Middle East,
  • farandwidecollective.com, a site that sources products from developing economies,
  • pink51.com, which exhorts visitors to “shop with a purpose” – meaning that a portion of all sales are donated to women-focused causes,
  • shop.plumalley.co, sister site of plumalley.co, which invests in women-owned and -led businesses and is based in New York City, and
  • rosiemade.com, which offers goods made by women-owned firms in the USA, and which is meant to remind us of Rosie “We Can Do It” the Riveter.

The biggest potential impact may come through a new initiative spearheaded by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, in partnership with WEConnect International and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). In 2012 Walmart debuted an online marketplace for women-owned products under the “Empowering Women Together” moniker as a part of their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative launched in 2011. Now, they are expanding that effort to include a “woman-owned” label on products not only online but in stores. (See this recent Bloomberg Businessweek article for more information.) This could take the Power of the Purse to a whole new level.

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The New Chain Gang: Women as Suppliers

Time was, corporations parked their womenabling efforts in their corporate social responsibility silos. Now, corporations are far more likely to view women-owned firms as important customers and suppliers than a population in need of charity.

We can date US corporate interest in women business owners as a market back to 1995, when the Center for Women’s Business Research’s seminal report, “Breaking the Boundaries,” was published. That report, based on an analysis of the entire Dun & Bradstreet database, showed that women-owned firms were just as financially stable and creditworthy as the average US firm. The report’s release resulted in a virtual stampede toward women-owned firms by US banks.

Now, a number of global corporations are taking a market development approach to supporting women’s entrepreneurship – readying them to be more valuable links in their supply chains.

The most recent entry is Walmart, the biggest corporation on the planet, which recently announced a four-pronged Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative. One important prong: $100 million USD in grants to women’s enterprise development efforts worldwide.

They join several other corporate giants in firmly planting a flag in the field of women as agents of economic change, rather than recipients of charity. Here are just a few:

  • Coke’s initiative, 5 by 20, aims to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020, by adding them to their retail vendor sales force. They plan to announce other elements of the program soon, as well as the paths by which they will achieve their goal. Let’s hope it includes women’s business association capacity-building!
  • Not to be outdone, Coke’s rival Pepsi has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with USAID and the UN’s World Food Programme to invest in chickpea production in Ethiopia. The project, called Enterprise EthioPEA, aims to double chickpea production in the country and improve childhood nutrition. The majority of the country’s – and the world’s – farmers are women.
  • Clothing company Gap, Inc. was recently recognized for their innovative PACE program (which stands for Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement), which has worked since 2007 in 6 Asian countries to improve the education and business skills of its garment workers.
  • Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative, a 5-year effort launched in 2008, has the aim of increasing the number of business school-educated women in developing economies, pairing them up with corporate mentors in developed economies and partnering with universities and other non-governmental organizations. To date it is active in 22 countries, and is partnering with 75 groups to reach their goal.

These efforts all bode well for WEConnect International, a relatively new NGO that has formed to make the link between women business owners who wish to do business with large corporations and the corporations that are seeking out ways to engage women’s business enterprises in their value chains. WEConnect’s model is based upon that of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) in the US. check out this brief video featuring WEConnect President Elizabeth Vazquez talking about the impact of including more women-owned firms in global corporate value chains:

So here’s to women as contributors of economic value! Are there any other big corporate “women in the value chain” efforts that you know of? Let us know!