As small and medium-sized businesses come under increasing pressure to look to foreign markets for growth and, in some cases, survival, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council is advocating a global certification for enterprises owned by women. The proposal has received mixed reviews. Critics contend that global certification will put non-certified WBEs at a disadvantage, while supporters say it will help their businesses take advantage of lucrative opportunities overseas.
The council, known by its acronym as WBENC, is a leading advocate for women’s business enterprises as suppliers and vendors to corporations. It’s also the top third-party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women. The global certification effort stems from the results of the organization’s randomly conducted “Global Business Survey” of 435 WBEs and 22 major corporations, which show that WBEs will need to source goods and services overseas if they want to grow their corporate business or avoid losing it. The survey also showed that only 29 percent of the WBEs surveyed are already buying overseas. Of that number, 40 percent buy from Asia, 40 percent from Europe and 20 percent from Latin America.
Linda Denny, WBENC’s president and CEO, insists that the most effective way to boost the international presence of WBEs is with global certification. The idea is to get a certification process going in other countries based on WBENC standards. Certified U.S. women’s business enterprises then can establish strategic relations with similarly certified foreign WBEs to obtain cost advantages when sourcing goods and services overseas.
At its annual conference in Atlanta in June, WBENC announced its intention to set the wheels in motion by establishing partnerships with various countries. It signed a Memo of Understanding with Quantum Leaps Inc., a nonprofit that promotes women in business globally and which will incubate WEConnect International, a corporate-led initiative promoting certification of WBEs based upon WBENC standards. Based on the survey, WBENC plans to develop relationships in Britain, Canada, China and India initially. “As certification is expanded into other countries we are working to keep the standards used based on the WBENC standard of women having at least fifty-one percent ownership and operational control,” Denny says.
Nancy Williams, principal of ASAP, an IT consulting and staffing firm in Atlanta, has already taken the leap into the global marketplace, specifically India. She says global certification will help small businesses compete with corporations that are already conducting business internationally. Her own business in India was slow to start because of local and large competitors, but it is beginning to pick up, she says. She sees ASAP maintaining a competitive edge because most of their relationships are with American-based companies. “Certainly we have an added advantage and understanding of the thought process,” she says.
For LaSonya Berry, president of McPherson, Berry & Associates Inc., a human resources consulting and training firm, global certification would better position her firm to expand its services internationally. “Small businesses are an integral part of the world’s economy. What better way for all parties to connect? [Certification] has been successful nationally and can be successful from an international standpoint,” she says.
But Nzengha Waseme, principal of Waseme & Associates, is concerned about the role of WBENC as a third-party certifier. Waseme, whose Wall Street law firm serves small-business owners, corporate companies and nonprofit organizations alike, says companies that don’t meet WBENC’s standards and the minimum certification requirements might find themselves at a disadvantage. “WBENC is grounded in the United States and the United Kingdom, with major connections in Canada. They appear to be the immediate winners,” Waseme says. “The losers would be those that don’t associate with this group and go it alone.”