Doing good
How Walmart Empowers Women Entrepreneurs Around the World
Kim Lachance Shandrow | February 23, 2017

Staying true to its longstanding commitment to create opportunity and help people live better lives, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to support women — and women-owned businesses — domestically and abroad.

As part of its’ Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE), the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant is providing training, market access and economic opportunities to about a million women — in factories, on farms and elsewhere — in the global workforce. And among the group are hundreds of glass-ceiling-smashing female entrepreneurs.

The pioneering program, named the 2016 “Best Economic Empowerment Program” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center, stemmed from Walmart’s pledge to increasingly source many of its products from women-owned businesses. Support for WEE comes from more than $100 million in Walmart Foundation grants, along with donations from other company entities.

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Launched in 2011 and progressively expanded since, the initiative also helps educate participating retail supply business founders on how to develop, fine-tune and scale their own early ventures. So far, around 762,000 women entrepreneurs have taken part in WEE. Additionally, the program has led to the sourcing of more than $16 billion in products and services from women-led enterprises for Walmart’s U.S. business.

“When we mention that we’re a supplier to Walmart, people automatically take you seriously, and you can begin to open up new doors and new avenues,” Heather Granata, one of the co-founders of Little Adventures, a small costume company in Pleasant Grove, Utah, said in the video above.

Jenny Harrison and Heather Granata, co-founders of Walmart supplier Little Ventures.

Jenny Harrison and Heather Granata, co-founders of Walmart supplier Little Ventures.

WEE has three primary objectives. The first is to drive down poverty among women, who play a crucial role in retail supply chains throughout the world, and in the economic health and well-being of countless families and communities. The second is to deepen its knowledge of its female customer base. And, third, to promote women and minority representation within its supplier base and within Walmart-facing teams.

“Walmart has invested in women’s economic empowerment not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s smart business,” Sarah Thorn, Walmart’s senior director of global government affairs, told Free Enterprise.

“The majority of our 260 million customers are women, and women control $20 trillion of annual consumer spending globally,” she said. “Women-owned businesses are growing 1.5 times faster than other private companies and hire, or promote, two times the number of women into senior management positions. Empowering women economically makes Walmart a more successful retailer by helping us to better understand and serve our customers.”

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To help deliver on WEE’s ambitious goals, Walmart has entered into several public-private partnerships with various schools, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies, such as the United States Agency For International Development (USAID). Working closely with USAID, the legacy company has developed collaborations to support women farmers throughout the world.

“We utilized philanthropy strategically with a diverse set of organizations to develop programs that break down barriers for women-owned business and to build capacity for women farmers, factory workers and those seeking retail jobs,” Thorn said. “We have learned that investing in women has made Walmart a stronger business with committed diverse suppliers who have increased opportunities in our global supply chain.”