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Speeches & TranscriptsMay 17, 2024

Remarks by Wencai Zhang, Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Administrative Officer (MDCAO), at the 2024 Annual Gala “Elevating Women’s NetWORTH with our NetWORK”

Esteemed guests, partners, and colleagues, it’s an honor to be here tonight. We stand with you, celebrating the spirit of women entrepreneurs. I am surrounded by leaders who share the World Bank Group’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion within supply chains—a commitment that resonates deeply for all of us.

Tonight, we gather not just in celebration but in recognition of the tireless spirit of women entrepreneurs, whose resilience and ingenuity are the cornerstones of our shared future. It is a future the World Bank Group is deeply committed to —a future where diversity and inclusion are not mere aspirations but essential pillars of our global economy.

In the face of multiple crises, we find ourselves at a moment where the imperative of diversity cannot be overstated. The world's challenges are complex, and they demand bold, innovative solutions. This means drawing from the full range of human potential, especially those too often left behind. 

It is not enough to acknowledge the value of diversity; we must actively support it. The world cannot afford to sideline the talents and contributions of half its population.

This gathering is more than a ceremonial gesture; it is a catalyst for action. It is a forum where we can go beyond sharing our achievements. We must share with candor our challenges. This way, we can chart a path forward with renewed energy and clarity.

The World Bank Group is committed to be inclusive in every aspect of our work—from supporting client countries to our internal operations.

Across our five World Bank Group institutions, we are focused on our renewed vision of ending poverty on a livable planet. Through financing and expert advice, we empower nations and communities.  We help them to enact meaningful change, to improve the lives of their citizens, and to forge a path toward a more equitable world. Our advocacy extends beyond financial support. We are champions for the marginalized. Dedicating our resources to creating jobs and opportunities and bringing hope for the future to millions. In this way, we keep gender equality and women's economic empowerment at the forefront.

Our conviction is steadfast.  Achieving our vision requires the full economic participation of both men and women. Gender equality is not just a moral imperative; it is a catalyst for societal change and well-being across generations. 

The evidence is clear—when women are involved, the likelihood of lasting peace increases, economies thrive, and the environment benefits. Visiting communities from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, I have seen firsthand the powerful impact that empowering women can have.  


The act of starting and scaling a business is a powerful mechanism for women to break the chains of poverty and build brighter futures. The significance of this has only been magnified by the COVID-19 crisis. This affected women and girls more heavily and increased inequality and violence against them.

At the World Bank Group, we recognize the power of procurement. Supply chains are not just economic linkages. They are the channels through which we can exert a positive, sustainable impact. By championing diverse and inclusive supply chains, we create opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, and leadership, particularly for those who have been economically marginalized, including women.

Our ambition on supplier diversity is more than internal policy; it is a pledge to lead by example. This commitment is deeply embedded in our work with developing countries and also in how we manage our internal affairs. 

In 2018, we embarked on a journey to establish a comprehensive supplier diversity and inclusion program. At that time, we set a target to double our procurement double from women-owned businesses to 7% by 2023, up from a 3% baseline. Today, we celebrate not only meeting that target and set our sights even higher for the future.

Our future targets aim to increase our procurement from women-owned businesses to 12% and to elevate their representation among our vendors from 9% to 15% by the year 2030. 

We are also committed to quantifying the economic impact of our supplier diversity efforts, with a focus on creating jobs, enhancing wages, and contributing to tax revenues. Drawing from our work with minority-owned businesses in the United States, we are expanding our reach globally to support businesses owned by those who have faced racial discrimination. Furthermore, we will broaden our support to include other diverse supplier groups such as SMEs, disabled- and LGBT-owned businesses.

Our supplier diversity and inclusion efforts are part of a larger vision, one that is integral to the World Bank Group's identity and our new Gender Strategy. This strategy will guide our engagement using innovation, financing, and collective action to do the following:

  • First, end gender-based violence and elevate human capital, 

  • Second, expand and enable economic opportunities for women, and 

  • Third, engage women as leaders.

As we hold ourselves accountable for gender equality outcomes, we also call upon our clients, partners, and peers to join us in this commitment. Through partnerships, we can amplify our impact, share knowledge, and find common solutions. Together, we can set a precedent for gender-responsive procurement and demonstrate the transformative power of every contract.

I extend my gratitude to Elizabeth and WEConnect International for their dedication to gender-responsive procurement and to all the women entrepreneurs who represent the transformative power of their work. Your commitment further advances progress.

Thank you all for the opportunity to address you this evening. I look forward to the discussions that will emerge from tomorrow's seminar, and I am confident that together we will forge a path toward a more inclusive and prosperous world.

Thank you.



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