June/July 2009

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WEConnect Canada launch
Supplier diversity

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WEConnect Canada supports
women-owned businesses

The new Canadian certifying group will work with its U.S. counterpart to expand supply chain diversity

Laraine Kaminsky, lead strategist for WEConnect Canada, at left, confers with Linda Denny, president and CEO of WBENC.On March 25, Canadian leaders joined the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, www.wbenc.org) and more than twenty-five corporate procurement executives at the international launch of WEConnect Canada, a nonprofit organization created to certify and support women-owned businesses in Canada.

The event was hosted by the honorable Michael Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., at the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC. Speakers included Wilson; the honorable Helena Guergis, Canada’s minister of state for the status of women; Laraine Kaminsky, lead strategist for WEConnect Canada; and Linda Denny, president and CEO of WBENC.

A former business owner herself, Guergis notes that women are an increasingly important part of Canada’s economy. Women-led firms provide 1.7 million jobs there, and are creating new jobs at four times the rate of the average business. Women entrepreneurs in Canada contribute more than $18 billion (Canadian) to the country’s economy.

Making the economy stronger
The honorable Helena Guergis is Canada’s minister of state for the status of women.More ideals and details were revealed at a WEConnect International conference following the launch party. As Guergis puts it, “Our government firmly believes that the easier we make it for women to start businesses, maintain them and expand into global markets, the stronger we make our economy. Our partnership with WEConnect Canada will make it easier for corporations from around the world to find qualified, women-led Canadian businesses to meet their needs.”

Like WBENC, which certifies women-owned businesses in the U.S., WEConnect Canada will certify Canadian firms that are at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by women. The organization also serves as a resource for corporations and public entities seeking diverse suppliers.

National and multinational corporations can become members through a financial and organizational commitment to increasing WBEs in their purchasing supply chains. Founding corporate partners include Accenture (Hamilton, Bermuda), Alcatel-Lucent (Paris, France), BMO Financial Group (Montreal, Canada), Cisco (San Jose, CA), IBM (Armonk, NY), Manpower (Milwaukee, WI), Pfizer (New York, NY), Staples (Framingham, MA) and Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AK).

Largest trade relationship
Linda Denny.WBENC’s Linda Denny notes that the U.S. and Canada are each other’s largest trading partners. “Trade between our countries is extremely robust with more opportunity to grow,” she says.

Denny recalls woman business owners in Canada who asked to be certified by WBENC, but had to be turned down because WBENC only certifies U.S. businesses. This new organization, she says, will provide excellent opportunities for Canadian WBEs. “We couldn’t be happier and look forward to the day when the WBENC and WEConnect Canada certifications can be reciprocal,” Denny says.

“So many of the major corporations have truly global supply chains, and they’re really trying to take their supplier diversity programs to the international stage,” Denny explains. “If there aren’t certified businesses out there, it’s very difficult for the big companies to identify the diverse suppliers they seek.”

WEConnect: a multiphase effort
WEConnect International is a nonprofit organization working to establish standards to qualify WBEs around the world. It estimates that women-owned businesses account for less than 5 percent of suppliers to corporations and governments.

The organization is engaged in a multiphase effort to create worldwide qualifying standards. It supported a U.K. certifying body, and plans to launch affiliates in China and India.

Creating WEConnect Canada
Last fall WEConnect International joined WBENC’s global business committee to create WEConnect Canada. They tapped Laraine Kaminsky to lead the organization.

“She was chosen as lead strategist because of her commitment to women-owned businesses, her understanding of corporate supply chains and her success as a WBE,” says Elizabeth Vazquez, executive director of WEConnect International.

Finding the right startup team for WEConnect Canada turned out to be critical, something WBENC’s Denny had been working on for several years. “We were interviewing Canadian women business owners and nonprofit leaders asking if they could recommend a good partner organization we could bring in to help launch this,” Denny says. “It really took all of us to find the right people and make this happen.”

Meet Laraine Kaminsky
Laraine Kaminsky.“Our team is good, strong and experienced,” Kaminsky declares. “The response from women businesses has been fantastic. There was a pent-up need.”

Kaminsky has more than twenty years of experience and is a former owner of a global diversity and inclusion firm. Within a few months of coming on board she secured seed funding from Canada’s Status of Women office and the support of minister Guergis.

“We were very fortunate to have her make this critical investment to ensure that our work is truly national in scope and impact,” Vazquez says.

But the three-year, $611,000 (Canadian) investment from Canada came with a requirement: the first ten WBEs must be certified in less than a month. “It was a real challenge,” Kaminsky recalls. “We had no infrastructure and nothing ready. But we exceeded the requirement: we certified eighteen businesses that first month!”

InGenius, Inc was one of the first
Dale Gantous.InGenius, Inc is a Canadian-based high-tech consulting firm. CEO Dale Gantous notes that “the core values of our company include treating people with equality, ethics and mutual respect. I see that as an underpinning of what WEConnect is trying to do, so we’re happy to be part of it.”

She also wants to raise awareness, “not only among business owners but among students still in school, that high-tech is a great place for women to be.” She hopes that through WEConnect, InGenius will make business connections “with leading-edge organizations who value diversity in the workplace and recognize it as a means of gaining access to great brains and great people, especially as the baby boomers continue to retire.”

Educating the public
The crowd at the international launch party in Washington included WBENC and WEConnect leaders plus corporate procurement execs.WEConnect Canada is focused on educating the Canadian public, as well as Canadian corporations, about the merits of supplier diversity. In fact, Kaminsky is currently on a country-wide promotion tour, “Connecting with WEConnect,” aiming to do just that.

“Supplier diversity is well established in the U.S. and has been very successful for both the suppliers and the women-owned businesses, but it’s not as well known in Canada,” Kaminsky says. “Canada is a country with many women business owners of all races and colors. My main role now is to educate the corporate world on the value of women-owned businesses. It’s a wonderful opportunity to build on the U.S. model.”

Kaminsky knows that WEConnect can learn from WBENC, and expects that the reverse is also true. “I think we Canadians will be able to provide a different perspective as another multicultural and diverse country,” she declares.

WBENC’s Denny is also looking forward to the collaboration. “I hope they will use us as a resource,” Denny says. “We’ve walked this path and learned a few things along the way. In some ways this will open their eyes to a world they’ve never seen before, and that’s very exciting.”


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