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Equal Opportunity Sourcing From Women Owned Businesses

Geneva, 28 March 2018 - Last week, the annual World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2018 (WSIS 2018) came to a close. Held in Geneva from 19 to 23 March 2018, the event is the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for Development Community. EQUALS and many of our partners participated in, hosted, and contributed to a number of notable sessions dedicated to the thematic focus of gender digital inclusion. Among those sessions was a session entitled “Maximizing Impact for Sustainable Development: How Core Business Activities Can Achieve a Multiplier Effect Through Equal Opportunity Sourcing From Women Owned Businesses”, an event conducted jointly by the ITU, ITC, UN Women, and We Connect International, in support of EQUALS. This event featured esteemed panellists Christine Low, Andrea Fimian, and Anna Mori, representatives of UN Women, IBM, and ITC respectively.

The goal of the session was to raise awareness of the opportunity to, and impact of, equal opportunity sourcing from women-owned or managed businesses. This emerging practice is relatively new to the ICT and Tech sector. However, given stark gender imbalances in the tech sector, gender-responsive sourcing that promotes supplier diversity is a key approach to strengthening supply chains and empowering women – a multiplier effect for sustainable development and business success. This is illustrated in IBM’s Supplier Diversity Program and ITC’s SheTrades initiative.

The session moderator, Phillippa Biggs of ITU, underlined that, despite considerable financial barriers, “the most significant barriers facing women-owned businesses are in fact non-financial in nature”, and linked to social and cultural norms, lack of access to international markets due to size, information asymmetry, and limited exposure to educational opportunities and networks. Given these challenges, each panelist was invited to share their perspective on why their respective organizations focus on inclusive sourcing and supply chain diversification.

“IBM recognizes that a diverse supplier base is integral to strategic objectives - solidifying the connection between customer satisfaction and winning in the marketplace. Building and maintaining a community of diverse suppliers increases IBM's opportunity to hear new ideas, apply different approaches, and gain access to additional solutions that respond to customer needs. Such collaboration helps IBM deliver innovation, quality products, and world-class service to a growing global marketplace” said Andrea Fimian, EMEA Supplier Diversity Program Manager at IBM. In doing so, power is given back to minority groups, including women.

For ITC, evidence from a recent survey demonstrates that “25% of firms trading offline are owned by women, but this rises to 50% or parity in online trade”. Therefore, parity is reached when a digital component is added to complement trade. However, acknowledging the continued obstacles that women face in engaging in eCommerce, SheTrades provides women with a network and platform to connect to markets, share information, and internationalize their businesses. By 2020, the initiative aims to connect one million women entrepreneurs with access to international markets, and simultaneously, integrate more women entrepreneurs in the supply chains of corporations.

UN Women added the critical need for innovative, multi-stakeholder partnerships and transformative action to encourage behavioral change and drive the shift to gender responsive procedures. In collaboration with WeConnect, UN Women has created a guide to gender-responsive corporate procurement, which provides materials for corporations as well as facilitates the acquisition of knowledge and skills that women and SMEs need to better access to markets.

As more stakeholders begin to prioritize the importance of equal opportunity along the supply chain, it is vital that men and governments are engaged to increase women’s participation in the economy. IBM highlighted the severity of unconscious bias, which may limit the engagement of men in conversations about supplier diversity. With reference to a case in Papua New Guinea, ITC added that men need to be involved in workshops and discussions alongside their female counterparts to ensure that the economic empowerment of women does not result in disempowerment in the confines of the home.

In the spirit of sharing knowledge, challenges, and best practices on the topic, it is clear that there are huge opportunities to scale up inclusive procurement policies, practices and commitments with significant benefits for governments, businesses, women, families and the economy. Phillippa Biggs added that “ICT Ministries and tech companies can benefit women, while improving their procurement / supply chains by adopting equal opportunity sourcing from women owned or managed businesses”. As with many other dimensions of gender equality, partnerships are key to ensure that women are not left behind.

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