IBM sources products and services worth as much as $60 million (Rs 360 crore) from women entrepreneurs in India every year. The company is known to have one of the best diversity policies in the world, and under its supply chain diversity programme, it globally does $3.4 billion worth of buying. “You have to give access to all suppliers because you might otherwise miss the next big innovation,” Michael Robinson, IBM’s program director for global supplier diversity said at a conference in Bangalore of WEConnect, a global organization that makes connections between women entrepreneurs and corporates that believe in inclusive sourcing.
Such diversity policies of MNCs are today proving to be of huge benefit to women in business. Anshul Verma started a placements firm called ToppersEdge in 2008 in Bangalore. This year, she became a certified member of WEConnect; the certification confirms that the firm is majority-owned, managed and controlled by a woman. “We got an entry into Accenture because of WEConnect. And at least two more connections are close to being forged thanks to this network,” says Verma. She attended a WEConnect conference in the US and now is doing business for American firms too.
The two-day WEConnect conference in Bangalore saw over 450 women entrepreneurs from around the country coming together to discuss and network, and meet representatives of companies. That number is up from 290 last year, when WEConnect held its first ever conference in India.
WEConnect’s head of India, Sucharita Eashwar, says the organization has 60 certified members now, and an additional 420 who are self-registered, which means they get invited to all events.
WEConnect members Nivedita Prasad and Uma Raju, co-founders of a chocolate venture called Chocolate Philosophy, received mentorship from Walmart India’s retail marketing head which they say helped to significantly increase their retail presence. The organization also helped them get their feet into Intel and Accenture, for whom chocolate gifting is big.
Priya Parabj, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur who has a venture in shakes made of sprouts that are targeted at addressing nutrition deficiency, has been certified for two years now, and says WEConnect has helped get a lot of leads. “Besides, it feels good to be part of such an impressive gathering. In Mumbai, you don’t get women entrepreneurs under one roof,” she says.
Geetha Devi, CEO of Gradus Engineers that provides project management services, says she could tap into small and medium enterprises, but getting access to bigger players was never easy. “WEConnect got us that access,” she says.
WEConnect’s corporate members are many — among them Accenture, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Boeing, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Walmart. Together they have $700 billion in annual purchasing power. And most of them have diversity policies that encourage them to source from women vendors. WEConnect’s certification is a valuable tool for them to identify appropriate candidates.
Srikant J Rao, MD-procurement for Asia Pacific in Accenture, and chair of the India Advisory Board of WeConnect India, says that when small, medium and diverse companies can better participate in the marketplace, “we create a multiplier effect that adds more jobs, more revenue and more vitality in communities across countries.”
Rajneesh Kumar, VP of corporate affairs in Walmart India, says the company works with its vendors to make them the best. “We provided seed money to a group of women making cloth bags in Rajasthan, and today they have a much bigger and better business,” he says.