The APEC "Women and the Economy" forum in Peru

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Caven, founder of Des Moines-based UpCraft Club

In March UpCraft Club was part of the Small Business Administration's InnovateHER competition … and we WON! Since that competition, the SBA has been incredibly helpful in connecting us with opportunities to continue moving UpCraft Club forward. A month ago they asked if I'd like to travel to the APEC 'Women and the Economy' forum in Lima, Peru as part of the US State Department delegation. During the forum, Russia held a pitch competition, co-sponsored by the US and Chinese Taipei and UpCraft Club was asked to represent the United States!

APEC stands for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and is a group of 21 economies (countries) coming together. Every year the APEC forums and events are hosted by a different country with meetings held in that economy for 12 months. This year Peru is serving as host.  

I was thrilled to serve as a delegate for a few reasons:

  1. I'm always excited to have the opportunity to introduce UpCraft Club to a new audience
  2. I was intrigued to learn more about the political policy making process.
  3. Peru has been on my 'bucket list' of places I've always wanted to travel.

In all, there were 15 delegates from the United States. Most were from the State Department, SBA or another public sector agency. The head of our delegation was Catherine Russell, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Part of the APEC forum was a conversation between the public and private sectors so our delegation also included senior (women) leaders from Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and PepsiCo. These are gigantic brands and it was an honor (and let’s be honest … a bit of a miracle) to include UpCraft Club in this group. 

 APEC US Delegation

APEC US Delegation

I learned so much from these executives as they talked about the challenges and responsibilities faced by large companies to make a difference in the lives of women globally. PepsiCo works around the world to bring clean water to communities who don’t have it. Intel is teaching girls to code. Johnson & Johnson donates first aid supplies and provides education on a variety of health topics to improve living conditions in vulnerable areas. These are complex problems and it was inspiring to hear what goes on behind the scenes in a corporation to move these initiatives forward.

Policy Making

 APEC Opening Day Audience

APEC Opening Day Audience

The first day of the APEC forum included a large general session and then the breakouts began. Various countries sponsored breakouts and included topics they wanted to discuss in depth. At the end of each session, recommendations were written down based on small group discussions. These recommendations were taken to the heads of delegations to be discussed in the official dialogue that would present the final statements of focus at the end of the forum. 

The US led two breakouts: one on STEM education for women and one on entrepreneurship. Since last year, the US has spearheaded the creation of a website with resources for women entrepreneurs including a directory of service providers that support women’s entrepreneurship across the 21 APEC economies. (Check it out – there are great resources here!)

International Pitch Competition

 UpCraft Club APEC Best pitch

UpCraft Club APEC Best pitch

The third day of the forum was a pitch competition called the APEC BEST Award. (BEST stands for Business Efficiency Success Targets) This competition has been going on for 15 years in Russia and the Russian delegation decided to bring it to the international stage of APEC for the first time. Twelve women entrepreneurs from around the world competed by each giving a ten minute presentation and then answering questions from an international panel of judges.

In May I pitched UpCraft Club at the 500 Startups Demo Day and only had two minutes so ten seemed like a lifetime. I decided to narrow the pitch to what was most important (and what could be easily understood by the audience—most of whom didn’t speak English fluently) and had a little over four minutes of content. Then I fielded questions for seven minutes.

The companies represented within the competition were from a variety of industries. In this picture you can see me with two of the other APEC BEST Award winners. On the far left is Susana from Chile. Her company specializes in helping companies stay compliant and they fight against corporate corruption daily. She won the ‘Best International Opportunity’ award. Lourdes (center) is from Peru and founded Amazona Chocolates. Peru is one of the main cocoa producers in the world but they are not known for their chocolate, they only export the raw crop. Lourdes creates pure chocolate from each type of Peruvian cocoa bean and exports her value added products to chocolate makers in several countries. She won the ‘Best Employer Award.’ UpCraft Club won the ‘Highest Growth Opportunity’ award and made some fantastic international connections to help increase our reach worldwide.

 APEC BEST Award winner

APEC BEST Award winner

One of the most eye-opening pieces of this competition was the judging process. There were eight judges, each representing a different country. When it came time to choose the winners, there was very (very!) heated debate. Each judge, of course, wanted an entrepreneur from their country to win and the politics of the discussion was fascinating to observe. I have a new appreciation for judges in settings like this and can only imagine how difficult it is to navigate the judging process at high stakes/emotional competitions like the Olympics.

I also have a new appreciation for speakers in international forums. It takes an incredible amount of concentration to speak when there are language translators sitting in the room, talking into a microphone the entire time you’re presenting. I hadn’t accounted for the delay to give non-English speakers a chance to understand each piece of my pitch. I hope to have the chance to talk in front of a similar group again so I can get better at this. 

Outcome of the Forum

The closing day of the APEC forum on Women and the Economy featured each of the heads of delegation from the 21 member economies. They made a final joint statement after negotiating it throughout the previous three days. The central theme is ‘Breaking Barriers to the Economic Integration of Women in the Global Market.’ You can see the entire statement here. In November, the APEC Leader’s Summit will take place and President Obama will lead the US delegation. The presidents/leaders of all 21 APEC member economies will come together in Peru to move initiatives forward from discussions begun in this year’s meetings, including the Women and the Economy forum. I hope we will continue to see a focus on supporting women-led businesses in the future and am excited by what is happening globally, and right here in Iowa, to champion women entrepreneurs.

Photo Credit: Photos via Elizabeth Caven