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FSG Sponsored Series

Building Shared Value

How Walmart Is Empowering Women in Business


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By Meghan Ennes

Believe it or not, Walmart is taking on big social issues to build a stronger business. Through the Empowering Women Together Initiative, launched in 2011, they’re making that strategy a reality.

“Walmart is using our size and scope to help women-owned businesses around the world succeed and grow,” says Andrea Thomas, SVP of Sustainability. Setting the precedent for similar social initiatives at Whole Foods and Starbucks, this strategy shift from America’s largest retailer could signal a “turning point in socially-conscious retail” (Forbes).

But Walmart’s strategy is attempting to go beyond social consciousness. They’re creating shared value by achieving business goals that help alleviate a societal problem. Beth Keck, senior director of women’s economic empowerment at Walmart, believes her company can give more women the opportunity for success through the shared value mindset. “All of these initiatives are improving our bottom line,” she says of the company’s sustainability efforts.

One of these goals is to give women in business access to Walmart’s huge customer base, and the company plans to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses across the world. For example, on Walmart’s main ecommerce website, you’ll find a dedicated women empowerment marketplace selling everything from personalized photo cards to jewelry – sourced from small businesses owned by women. This and other initiatives are powered by partnerships with nonprofits, like the Women's Bean Project which employs chronically impoverished women in a gourmet food or handcrafted jewelry position. These women benefit from a transitional job to help them with their next step, and Walmart benefits from the new products they’re able to sell.

Walmart has announced other goals to boost woman-powered business worldwide. The company plans to train 500,000 women in the agriculture value chain in emerging markets, which Keck says is now improving food availability in those areas. And with the help of partnerships in those markets, they’re promoting female entrepreneurs by giving them the training they need to boost their business. “The benefits of the program are 100 percent real,” says Leticia Hernandez of Guatemala, whose homemade fried plantains are now distributed worldwide in Walmart stores through the company's partnership with local social responsibility program A Hand to Grow.

In the second installment of our series, Leading Shared Value, Keck explains the strategic motivation behind Walmart's initiatives in-progress in the video below. (For our first interview, read “CEO of Japan’s Kirin Brewery on Creating Shared Value.”) Ms. Keck will also speak at the Shared Value Leadership Summit on successful cross-sector collaboration for both social good and business benefit.

Meghan Ennes is community coordinator for the Shared Value Initiative. Learn more about attending the Shared Value Leadership Summit.

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