WEConnect International Spearheads Tech Empowerment for Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide

CXOToday had engaged in an exclusive interview with Elizabeth A Vazquez, CEO & Co-Founder of WEConnect International


  1. Can you discuss any specific tech-driven initiatives or programs to empower women in business?

So WeConnect International asked our member buyers what technologies they use to manage their suppliers and their vendor management system. It turns out SAP was the consistent platform that they all used for vendor management. As a result, we developed a partnership with USAID and SAP, IBM, Accenture, PNG, and ExxonMobil to launch a platform in 10 different languages to make it easier for women and businesses in over 135 countries to register for free and to apply for certification in over 60 countries including here in India. And we could not have done it without technology and we have just recently incorporated a new technology AI-based help desk. And that helps because there are so many other languages, especially in countries like India where we need to make it as easy as possible for the women to register and to be found.


  1. What challenges do women entrepreneurs face in adopting and leveraging technology effectively?

Before COVID, it was very hard for us to get women-owned businesses to go online and register as preferred suppliers because the technology was just a bit overwhelming for a lot of the businesses that are women-owned. But because of COVID, unfortunately, it had so many horrible things that happened in the world. But the one good thing was that there was almost immediate technology adoption. And so all businesses, including women-owned businesses, were forced to very quickly figure out how to use Zoom and how to make electronic payments and receive electronic payments. So there are a lot of aspects of running a business that today require a basic knowledge of technology. And increasingly, the technologies are becoming more user-friendly, so having them make sure that they are mobile-enabled became important as not everyone can run to their desktop.

And so those are the kinds of dynamics that women, I think, benefited from, but also contributed to making those technologies more user-friendly, more inclusive. As we develop these new AI tools, there’s a lot of bias in them, so there are a lot of women working to make sure that we minimize the bias, that we’re accurate in how history was, but not… If you look up the word woman boss, it’s horrifying what comes up. And so there are things like that that we all collectively need to work on, and women are playing a leading role in that. That’s very insightful.


  1. How do you address the digital divide among women business owners, especially in regions with limited access to technology?

So the digital divide is real. I do see that increasingly most people have either first-degree or secondary access to a phone. Most people, even those we consider illiterate and enumerate, are now able to use basic cell phone services, apps that have pictures that make it more intuitive for buying and selling various types of products and services. So there’s still a long way to go and I think the gap in some ways is closing because more and more people have access to technology, but in some ways it’s widening because the people with the most money who can invest in things like AI and in places where they have the quantum computing and the data centres that are required to move all of that data, those economies or communities are going to just by sheer volume and wealth are going to be able to far exceed what others who have limited access to AI tools will be able to leverage.


  1. What opportunities do you see for women-led tech startups in emerging markets like India?

I see huge opportunities for women-led tech companies here, especially in India. I see a lot of venture capitalists, a lot of angel investors, and a lot of buyers who are specifically looking to diversify their portfolios. They see women as being a good investment because they are good at managing risk. For better or for worse, they tend to take on not more debt than they feel they can repay which sometimes stops them from taking on the large amounts of money that men might take on, but ultimately if you’re an investor and you’re looking for a return from a company that’s still in business, you want to invest in companies that are a little more careful, that doesn’t mean that they don’t take risks. Women take risks, I think that’s a myth that women are risk-averse. I think they manage risk in a very smart and sophisticated way and that’s what investors are looking for.


  1. In what ways does WEConnect International collaborate with tech companies to enhance support for women-owned businesses?

WEConnect International has many of our corporate members being the top tech companies in the world and not only are they looking for innovative tech -based companies but really all of our companies use technology, they’re all looking for the latest apps, they’re all looking for the latest solutions to help their customers, they’re all looking for efficiencies, they’re all looking for AI tools that can you know make their work better, stronger, more effective, have better intelligence because they have a lot of data but they’re not necessarily doing anything with it so for all of those reasons the opportunities for women in tech are only growing, they’re only increasing and definitely now is the time because it’s still a really new space, all of this is still pretty new and so and I would also say that in the biotech space in particular women are really-really strong because they tend to have the medical background and when you couple that with the tech that’s needed and the focus on people and the planet and things that are you know do no harm, tech that can actually help people in the planet I think that’s where women are particularly well positioned to add value and be hugely successful.


  1. Are there any success stories or case studies highlighting the impact of technology on women-owned businesses within your network?

There are several women-owned businesses in tech that we work with that are winning contracts with our member buyers. Some women are, for example, helping with the sustainability space, collecting the hardware and recycling it in a way that you know minimizes the damage to the environment but doing it safely. Some women are building all kinds of apps and all kinds of software solutions but increasingly apps. And then also there’s a lot of women who are doing measurement impact measurement and training so internal staff training but also external on how the world can engage with a company using their technology. All kinds of business process outsourcing services are tech-based AI-driven and a lot of that’s happening here in India.


  1. How do you ensure that women and entrepreneurs have access to the latest technological environments and digital tools to compete in the global marketplace?

We Connect International works with a lot of our corporate members who are the biggest tech companies in the world to provide training and insights into what is needed by those companies. So a lot of it is demystifying. It’s a $100 trillion global economy. There’s plenty of money, and there’s plenty of needs. So the question is, how do women better anticipate the needs of the market, and how do they pivot what they’re doing into sectors that have more profit potential and tech is always going to be an example of a space where there’s huge, huge opportunities, constant innovations. And so being able to provide those insights into every time there are new areas, whether it’s blockchain or now with machine learning, all of these things are member buyers know years in advance. They don’t share knowledge in a way that is inappropriate or is in some way going to conflict with the rules and regulations of what can and should be shared for competitive advantage, but they can give insights because they’re looking for suppliers to provide cutting edge products and services, that’s where there are opportunities for our women to understand where these businesses are going and what their pain points are.