Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Vazquez: Connecting women

Published:Monday | October 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Elizabeth A. Vazquez, CEO and co-founder of WEConnect International. Ian Allen/Photographer

Randy Bowman, Assistant Lifestyle Coordinator

Growing up in Arizona, after being born in Mexico, Elizabeth Vazquez would not have believed it if someone had told her she would be the president, CEO, and co-founder of WEConnect International - a corporate-led, non-profit organisation that helps to empower women business owners to succeed in global markets.

"Growing up on government support was difficult, in addition to moving around a lot. I was not exposed to (the lifestyle I'm living now), nor was anyone in my family. So it was difficult to even imagine my life ending up like this. I always had an interest in the world, but it wasn't until I became aware of women's economic empowerment and their role in communities that it made me excited," Vazquez told Flair on her recent visit to the island.

Vazquez was recently in Jamaica as part of the panel for the Plenary Session, Business-to-Business Linkages, at the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce's Special Economic Zones Policy Forum at the Jamaica Conference Centre to get a closer look at Jamaica's special economic zone regime and the kind of possibilities that exist for women-owned Jamaican businesses and how the Jamaica logistics hub acts as a key facilitator.

The WEConnect International team supports a network of local representatives in 17 countries across the world. The main goal of the organisation is empowering female entrepreneurs and creating a network to facilitate the growth of their business while supporting each other.

Raised by a single mother, Vazquez is also the co-author of the book, Buying for Impact: How to Buy from Women and Change our World. "My mom put herself through school. She became a mental-health therapist. She was my role model," Vazquez explained.

The busy mother of a bilingual eight-year-old daughter beamed with pride as she spoke with Flair about her world travels and the amazing support she gets from her family, especially from her husband of almost 10 years. "It really isn't easy being married to the CEO of a multinational NGO. But I am thankful for a strong partner that is unbelievably patient and supportive, and [who] really believes. This week, I am here; last week, I was in India and Canada; the week before, I was in Mexico; next week, I will be in France. And my daughter, though enrolled full-time in a private school, sometimes accompanies us on trips. She is such a good traveller," notes Vazquez.

A firm believer that there is no such thing as balance in life, Vazquez applies what she refers to as work-life integration. "As a result of the hectic travelling schedule, we sometimes have to incorporate and celebrate family events with business. Last month, we celebrated our anniversary in Costa Rica, as that was where work took us," Vazquez told Flair.

EXTENSIVE EDUCATION

An alum of Arizona State University, Vazquez has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and in 2013, she was honoured by the Barrett Honors College as an Inspiring Alumni for making significant contributions in her career and community. She has a master's degree in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she studied development economics and international negotiation as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. She also completed graduate seminars at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, and Sookmyung Women's University in South Korea.

But getting to this point was no easy feat. After getting into college on scholarships, Vazquez had to work "extra, extra, extra hard" not just to maintain the scholarship, but because she had to play catch-up as she didn't know basic grammar or how to spell, construct logical arguments or even how to learn. But by the end of her first year, she was an honours student.

When asked what she loved most about her job, Vazquez beamed with pride. "I love the people. They all have a story, there is a reason they do what they do. And the privilege to ask people about their dreams and to be able to help them is one of the best feelings in the world."

And her advice to anyone aspiring to go into business? "Talk to folks such as Yaneek Page, role models, and successful leaders that are accessible. Be confident and ask for help and guidance, because young people have a lot of potential. Get support on building your dreams. Ask yourself 'what does the world and what is the world willing to pay?', and not just 'what are we good at?'."