WEConnect International, a global non-profit, assists women-owned businesses (WOBs) across the world by creating sustainable forward linkages with corporations. WEConnect, together with IFC, has commenced an initiative titled Corporate Connect: Strengthening Market Access for WOBs for supporting Bangladeshi WOBs as part of a national project to connect WOBs with corporate buyers. The initiative is funded by DFID, The Ministry of Commerce and World Bank. Additional funding, initiated by Ivanka Trump, is expected to scale up the project.
As the local partner for WEConnect International, our work in the first phase was to determine market prospects of WOBs: determining scalable WOBs and opportunities for growth. Contingent on results, second phase demanded to collaborate with both WeConnect and IFC to develop the project’s corporate engagement strategy and to identify capacity improvement needs.
For the first phase, we prepared an in-depth landscaping study across the WOB space in Bangladesh. Both quantitative and qualitative tools were employed to solicit data. In the process of data collection, we also formed alliances with large private organizations that deeply cared about the issue and showed preliminary interest to have capable WOBs enrolled in their supply chain. Around 80% of the corporations we reached out, showed interest to incorporate WOBs in their supply chain. We shared the findings in the presence of large corporate buyers, international firms and WOBs, facilitating a dialogue between relevant stakeholders about greater supplier diversity, paving the way for an auspicious second phase to commence.
In the next stage, we have developed a corporate engagement strategy in conduit with building a group of corporate representatives who will drive greater supplier diversity within their organization. This involved, systematically approaching relevant corporate partners and marketing the concept of supplier diversity and how it affects their overall business sustainability. So far, we have ensured participation of 10 corporations through signed pledge letters and commitment of sourcing from WOBs.
Additionally, 50 women owned businesses were selected for a capacity development training program to help build skills and increase network. The selected WOBs represented diverse sectors ranging from leather to crafts to ICT to service industry. The trainings were provided in association with A4 Consultants, a training consultancy firm.
Going forward, our work will revolve around facilitating more training programs and creating deeper engagements with corporations.