A Gathering of Changemakers for Women in Mexico

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Jesse Matton, Associate Manager, Corporate Relations, Corporate Citizenship Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Mario Castilleja Lorenzana, Mexico Procurement Lead, Accenture; Pilar Aguilar, Director, Endeavor Mexico; and Kara Valikai, Senior Manager, Women's Economic Empowerment; Walmart Stores, Inc. spoke on the "Taking the Long View" panel.


Walmart's Kara Valikai shares takeaways from our women's economic empowerment event in Mexico City.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center (CCC) convened a successful two day meeting, Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment in Mexico: Exploring Opportunities for Private Sector Engagement and Impact, which inspired, motivated, and reminded us that working across public, private, and non-profit sectors can provide the solutions to an often complex and multi-faceted set of challenges. The energy in the room at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Mexico City was high as leaders came together to discuss how best to empower women entrepreneurs and employees. The dynamic panel discussions spoke of collaboration while exploring complex topics such as the business case for corporations and the cultural challenges that exist in Mexico.

The Walmart team shared our learnings from Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Initiative. Walmart’s WEE initiative set out ambitious goals to achieve by 2016:

  • Source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S. and double sourcing globally;
  • Train nearly 1 million women globally in farming, factory, and retail;
  • Promote diversity and inclusion opportunities among our merchandise and services suppliers.

The Walmart WEE team was well represented at the event. Sarah Thorn, Senior Director of Global Government Affairs, spoke at an intimate, corporate-led roundtable prior to the official start of the event, entitled Building the Pipeline of Women Entrepreneurs. Sarah was one of the early designers of Walmart’s WEE Initiative when it launched in 2011 and has been instrumental in supporting its growth over the past five years. She discussed the early challenges that Walmart experienced, such as calculating the number of women-owned businesses in our global supply chain and understanding the constraints faced by women in becoming Walmart suppliers.

Jenny Grieser, who currently leads the WEE Initiative, spoke during a luncheon plenary on Women’s Economic Empowerment & Workforce Development. She poignantly reminded the audience of the importance of including men at the table. She discussed recent results from Walmart’s Women in Factories program, which showed that when men were included in factory training, women were more successful.

I participated on a panel which discussed Taking the Long View in Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, with Pilar Aguilar from Endeavor Mexico and Mario Castilleja from Accenture. Together we stressed the importance of an ecosystem approach and our vision for more collaboration among NGOs and corporations. Collaborations, both formal and informal, create the necessary environment for sharing, which builds on our collective work.

One of my favorite parts of the meeting was hearing from women entrepreneurs about their experiences. “If you are a woman and you get a credit card, it comes in a jewelry box,” said one woman entrepreneur, as we discussed gender stereo-typing within banking.

Another woman described how she needed to “act like a man” to get a loan by challenging the loan officer when he turned her down. The entrepreneurs in the room seemed to agree that there are cultural norms within banking that pose challenges for obtaining credit.

These challenges often take away from time better spent at their business. Emma Pelaez, CEO of A Tu Salud, joined a panel, and discussed her growth with Walmart, as part of Walmart Mexico’s successful Adopta una PyME program. Walmart Mexico designed the program to select high potential small- and medium- sized businesses to be a part of a cohort of suppliers that receive special services designed to help them scale as Walmart suppliers. For Walmart, meeting great entrepreneurs like Emma and hearing her growth, reinforces the message that supporting women entrepreneurs is good for women and good for business.

Kudos to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation CCC for putting together a successful event in Mexico City. Listening to passionate women entrepreneurs and their challenges remind me that our work is not done, but progress is real and evident.