US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Local Business Leaders Participate in First National Roundtable on Women’s Empowerment Through Economic Inclusion Hosted by WEConnect International

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WEConnect International hosted a first-of-its-kind roundtable last week with US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz, the US Department of State, and local business leaders to present research findings on the status of women-owned businesses (WOBs) in corporate value chains in Sri Lanka and why only a handful of women suppliers win procurement contracts with large buyers.  

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka - Alaina B. Teplitz speaks about the U.S  Diplomat who arrived in the country by violating health regulations.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B. Teplitz

The research was compiled by Chrysalis Research for the WEConnect International’s ‘Women’s Empowerment Through Economic Inclusion’ pilot project, funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The results drew from an ecosystem study on WOBs in Sri Lanka and the key survey findings presented at the roundtable included

  • Women in Sri Lanka own approximately 253,000 or 25% of all private businesses, and yet large corporations find it difficult to identify and buy from women suppliers
  • 81% of the buyers have a very limited understanding of supplier diversity and inclusion (SD&I) or gender-inclusive sourcing
  • Less than 10% of the WOBs have a contract with corporate buyers
  • Nearly 40% of the WOBs face challenges in responding to procurement opportunities
  • WOBs struggle to articulate their value proposition and often face language barriers
  • Less than 10% of the WOBs export their products, thereby restricting their grow potential
  • Compared to men, women in Sri Lanka are more likely to face both institutional and sociocultural barriers that limit their access to finance, collateral assets, markets, and business information and training
  • Most WOBs are not members of influential business associations or networks which limits their access to large buyers

“It’s the perfect time–as supply chains are re-established–to open the door to greater inclusivity among participating businesses, especially if we can set aside our preconceived and often inaccurate notions of who makes a successful and reliable supply chain partner,” said Ambassador Teplitz. 

The Women’s Empowerment through Economic Inclusion pilot project in the Indo-Pacific included not only Sri Lanka, but also India, Bangladesh and the Maldives. 

“WEConnect International’s first step was to commission research to identify key market linkages, challenges, needs and capacity of WOBs, corporations and other key stakeholders in Sri Lanka,” said WEConnect International Regional Director – South Asia Eroshan Alagaretnam. 

The research was conducted over a 12-week period and the full report will be published in July 2021. WEConnect International will now implement the project through local and regional business training, networking, and other means of support for women-owned SMEs in Sri Lanka in an effort to promote sustainable development and gender equity. 

“Through this three-year project, WEConnect International will work with partners to create a more seamless integration of Sri Lankan certified women’s business enterprises into corporate, multilateral and government value chains as a win-win solution,” said Elizabeth A. Vazquez, CEO/Co-Founder of WEConnect International, a global non-profit that helps women-owned businesses compete in the global marketplace through capacity development and connections to large buyers seeking women suppliers. 

“WEConnect International’s work is so exciting because it addresses a major market failure,” said US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary – State for South Asia Laura Stone.

 “Supporting women’s economic advancement is good business and critical for national economic growth”

Roundtable participants included world leaders in gender-inclusive sourcing such as IBM, Marriott International, Citi, Trane Technology, DELL and JP Morgan. Local businesses that participated in the roundtable included Brandix Apparel, Dialog Axiata, DFCC Bank, John Keells Holdings, Hemas Holdings, HNB, Jetwing Hotels and many others.

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