Business Women in International Trade: Growing the Brand of Business Women

Women-owned businesses in Canada are on the rise, and many are seeking to grow their business abroad. In fact, a recent Royal Bank of Canada study on small and medium-sized enterprises predicts that a 10 percent increase in the number of female majority-owned firms over the next ten years will lead to a $50 billion injection into the Canadian economy.

This is not news to the team working in the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program. Located within the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), the program has been successfully assisting export-ready and export-active Canadian-women-owned businesses (those that are 51 percent owned and/or controlled by women) to achieve their potential in international markets.

BWIT offers a supportive line of products including a notable website, a nationally cited LinkedIn group, a quarterly blog, and an annual newsletter. BWIT also conducts women-focused trade missions, provides qualified contacts to women exporters, and responds to queries from business women across Canada looking for advice on how to succeed in international markets.

“The BWIT program has been instrumental in assisting thousands of women-owned businesses globalize over the years,” says Zoe Hawa, Trade Commissioner for the BWIT Program, “Having strong partnerships between ourselves, business women’s associations and organizations across Canada as well as our Trade Commissioner Service colleagues worldwide have been central to delivering on that success.”

Women mean business

BWIT is one of two federal programs to specifically focus on Canadian businesswomen interested in exporting to new markets.

Consequentially, BWIT receives clients from far and wide. Some of the work includes requests for assistance from business women and the Trade Commissioner Service via BWIT’s flourishing website and social media presence. BWIT also serves clients by partnering with women’s networks across Canada such as the Organization of Women in International Trade, Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs, and Alberta Women Entrepreneurs. To further support Canadian business women, BWIT promotes events and trade mission opportunities from Canadian consulates abroad and regional Trade Commissioner offices throughout the country.

Every year, the BWIT team conducts women-focused trade missions such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) annual business fair. It represents an opportunity for Canadian business women to connect with representatives from Fortune 500 companies that are looking for women business enterprises to diversify their supply channels. In 2014, BWIT also conducted a women-focused trade mission to Orlando, Florida, known as the ‘Go for the Greens’ business development conference to help Canadian businesswomen secure contracts.

“The BWIT team are the eyes and ears of Canadian business women,” says Ruth Grady, President of Northern Abrasives in PEI, and a BWIT client, “not only can they put you in contact with potential partners or clients they are also an invaluable resource for all women exporters.”

Who is the driving force behind the program?

Meet Josie Mousseau, Zoe Hawa, and Miriam Lopez-Arbour. This team of passionate women work hand-in-hand with other trade commissioners in Canada and around the globe to increase chances for success in international markets for Canadian business women.

“BWIT’s offerings have grown considerably since its early days but we are not stopping there,” notes Josie Mousseau, Deputy Director of BWIT. “Last year we launched a specialized directory for women-owned businesses in partnership with Industry Canada. This directory will help all women-owned businesses promote their products and services to procurement professionals from around the world.”

BWIT in partnership with Industry Canada launched a specialized directory for women-owned businesses as part of the Canadian Company Capabilities (CCC) database. The CCC database showcases the products and services of over 50,000 Canadian businesses and attracts over five million visitors and procurement professionals annually from around the world. The inclusion of a specialized directory allows qualified women-owned businesses to be easily identifiable to organizations from around the world looking to do business with them.

Growth through social media

In addition to a diverse number of products and services, BWIT has developed a successful LinkedIn subgroup that connects women entrepreneurs with like-minded professionals, government partners, academics, researchers, and trade commissioners—all interested in international commerce.

“When I began interacting with business women through the BWIT LinkedIn group,” says Miriam Lopez-Arbour, Information and Social Media Coordinator with BWIT, “I had dozens of questions and concerns as to its use and potential. To my surprise, it was their feedback and appreciation of the information shared via this new platform that helped guide me in the right direction.”

With more than 1,200 members and growing, the BWIT LinkedIn Group is the most successful TCS subgroup. It was nominated by Canadian Internet Business as one of Canada’s top business groups on the popular professional network, joining the likes of The Globe and Mail’s Small Business Group and the Canada Business and Professional Network Group.

Visit the Canadian Business Women in International Trade LinkedIn group and join the conversation!

Learn more about the program

To learn more about the BWIT program and its services, please visit their website at www.tradecommissioner.gc.ca/eng/businesswomen/home.jsp, which contains information on funding opportunities, contacts, tools, and resources, as well as a new products and services page that contains information about women-focused trade missions, and much more!

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