WEConnect International is a non profit organization that exists to empower women entrepreneurs in their journey towards success. They encourage women-owned businesses to connect with international organizations, to boost business and professional relationships.
On November 17, WEConnect International China will be putting together the WEConnect China 2013 Marketplace, with some huge names in the business world, such as Walmart China, IBM and Boeing as their sponsors. The event seeks to economically empower women entrepreneurs by introducing them to multinational companies that are interested in doing business with them. Businesswomen will have an opportunity to showcase their products or services to international organizations as well as the chance to network with them.
In addition, a Marketplace event will provide a forum where Chinese and foreign female entrepreneurs will be able to learn and gain an understanding of the tricks of the trade used to strengthen their businesses. This strategy, which combines regular business models with Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) programs, is unique to China.
I spoke with Sophie Guerin, the Deputy Director of WEConnect International in China; where we touched upon business and the future of women.
What interests you most about China?
China is is a country with a frenetic energy to it. It’s an exciting place to be a young professional and an emerging entrepreneur. China certainly poses great pitfalls and risks but the possibilities are seemingly endless. What serves to make China even more fascinating, is that this frenetic growth is situated in a traditional culture. This either drives this growth to even greater heights or leads to friction and unexpected outcomes. After being here for over 11 years, I’m certainly never bored.
Is it easy for women to start a business in China?
The environment for women is quite different in China than in the West. There are plenty of examples of successful female entrepreneurship and women executive role models for young women entrepreneurs in China. I think that in this context, women in China have an advantage. In the West, women continue to have to push back against stereotypes that women can’t and shouldn’t do this, whereas in China this is not the case. For women in China the challenge is twofold. One, access to capital, which is a challenge for any entrepreneur in China; and two, deciding how to handle the familial and social pressure to have a family. The latter issue is incredibly difficult for women in China. Many of the women entrepreneurs that I work with have indicated that this is one of the hardest issues that they grapple with. It affects their businesses, their relationships with their extended family, their child, their husband, their employees, etc.
Is there any aspect in the business world where you wish to see more women?
Women in China are incredibly remarkable because the businesses that they pursue are so diverse. In the US and the UK for example, many women entrepreneurs establish companies in marketing, management consulting or HR. In China, this is a very small percentage of the companies in our network. Many businesses are in construction, IT, chemical production/mining, heavy machinery, and large-scale agriculture.
Is there a particular market one should focus on when it comes to doing business in China?
It really depends on a persons expertise and knowledge of China. People are always looking for “the next big thing,” but success, more often than not, stems from doing your due diligence, building a solid network, having a unique product, ensuring that you have a long-term strategy, finding quality employees, and being prepared that doing business in China is unlike any beast that you have encountered.
You founded WIPA (Women in International Public Affairs);what are some of the challenges that women have to overcome in their professional and personal development?
It really depends on the stage that a woman is in in her career. As a young professional I constantly have to work to ensure that my voice is hard. I find that my male colleagues are often more aggressive and quick to speak up, where I find myself often looking for “the right opportunity.” This often puts women in a position where their ideas may be dismissed or not even heard. The older you get the more there are factors relating to work-life balance, particularly if you are driven. Successful women I’ve seen have strong professional networks and are respected, both personally and professionally.
What do you hope to see when it comes to women’s rights and opportunities internationally?
I hope to see a world where women have a larger slice of the pie. Women are drivers of growth in our economies as entrepreneurs, executives and consumers. Women make over 90 percent of household purchasing decisions, making them the key demographic for smart businesses looking to build long-term growth strategies.
What advice would you give women who want to start their own business?
Identify groups or networks that can help you to shape and hone your business vision. Find partners that can provide you with access to skills, workshops, training seminars, and networks that can help you and your company build capacity. Speak up when you need help. Your fellow female entrepreneurs are some of your best sounding boards. Join industry specific working groups that will provide you with insight into the latest emerging trends.
What resources are available for women entrepreneurs in China?
Chambers of Commerce, industry groups and networking associations are a great start. The Marketplace event that we will be hosting on November 17 will provide a platform for women entrepreneurs to showcase their goods and services as well as provide training to help them become more competitive suppliers to multinational companies. This Marketplace is open to all attendees who are interested in participating or learning more about doing business in China.
If you are interested in attending this event, you can purchase your ticket here . You can also check out the poster for the event below: