WBENC celebrates fifteen years with WOW!
3,000+ energetic women and men worked, played and made connections in Orlando
This June, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) marked its fifteenth anniversary with a bang. Three days of seminars, speeches and presentations, plus a pre-conference technology summit, gave WBEs and their customers information and inspiration, along with plenty of opportunities for structured and informal networking and contacts.
Corporate members have been essential to WBENC since its founding. Office Depot has been a major supporter and conference sponsor almost as long, and was a corporate co-chair of the 2012 event.
Frantz Tiffeau, senior manager of supply chain diversity, is enthusiastic about WBENC's value to the company. Tiffeau reports that Office Depot spent $250 million with women's business enterprises (WBEs) in 2011, out of a total diversity spend of $350 million. The WBE figure includes companies owned and run by women of color. Women of color, Tiffeau notes, are the fastest-growing segment of the office products market.
Fifteen years and growing
WBENC was launched in 1997 with eleven corporate members, 500 "grandmothered" WBEs and regional partner organizations (RPOs) in Illinois, Ohio, Texas and Louisiana; there are now close to 300 corporate members, fourteen RPOs that cover the U.S., and more than 11,000 certified WBEs. In 2011, WBENC was approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as a third-party certifier of women-owned small businesses for government contracting.
WBENC has inspired international organizations in Canada and England, as well as WEConnect International, which is active in India, China and elsewhere. A sizable delegation of Indian WBEs attended this year's conference.
Playing the game with WOW!
This year's event featured an interactive game activity, WOW! (WBENC Opportunity World, Women of WBENC, and several other variations). Attendees collected "passport stamps" by visiting sponsor booths and participating in events run by WBENC RPOs, then climbed onto a lifesize game board to answer questions and win prizes.
A karaoke session staged by the Women Presidents' Educational Organization (WPEO), the RPO for the New York and Washington, DC metro areas, was one of the most popular activities.
Awards and recognition
The William J. Alcorn Award, named for WBENC's first board chair, went to Cheryl Stevens, VP of supplier diversity at Energy Future Holdings (Dallas, TX), who has been an active contributor to WBENC activities since the beginning, and is a former board chair.
Applause awards, which recognize contributors to WBENC's mission of expanding opportunities for WBEs, were presented to Debra Stewart, director of supplier diversity, workforce development and diversity outreach at Shell Oil (Houston, TX); and Cyndi Hopkins, director of global supplier diversity at Dell (Round Rock, TX).
Stewart has been instrumental in the development and support of WBENC's student entrepreneur program; this year, several of the participants, who receive training and coaching in how to start and run their own businesses, are engineering grad students.
Additional Applause awards went to the team of WBENC board members, staff and RPO leaders who developed the SBA certification program.
Diversity/Careers' parent company, Renard Communications, is a certified WBE, and was represented at the conference by its publisher, sales director, editor and several other staffers.
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