WalMart: Empowering Women Together

Forbes had a story this past week that included an important innovation being introduced by WalMart, “Empowering Women Together.”  This Forbes story is about socially conscious retailing, positioned as a new trend that includes all kinds of ways to be a better person while you’re shopping–but most of them focus on the environment.

From the Double X Economy point of view, the important angle is the entry of the world’s largest retailer into the campaign on behalf of women in the poor nations.  I think we need to pay particular attention to WalMart’s Store for Good because it purposely “hooks up” shoppers in the developed world (who are mostly women) with other women who need their help.  In other words, they are facilitating women buying from women. And they are framing the whole matter in terms of economic power. I think it is crucial to support efforts like this.

There have been similar offerings in the past:   Global Girlfriends, for instance, has been around about ten years.  And there are huge global collaborations like the International Women’s Coffee Alliance that connect women as buyers and sellers up along the entire supply chain, working through all kinds of challenges along the way.  (We are very excited to be developing a case study of the IWCA for the upcoming Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy.)

But the WalMart effort represents a very important watershed.  We must not underestimate how much economic power can be harnessed by engaging large corporations, in particular those companies who sell things to women.

But this website is not WalMart’s only engagement.  They are also working, especially through Full Circle Exchange, with the International Trade Center, to help women in developing nations sell to large global entitites, both governments and corporations.  When I attended the International Trade Center’s Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in Mexico City last November, I could see how important WalMart’s participation was.

Like it or not, women are still most often present in certain industries, especially garments, that involve textiles.  I say “like it or not” because many people insist what we need to do is move women into more lucrative sectors, especially “technology” (whatever that means).  The problem is that women, especially poor ones, are unlikely to have those kinds of skills whereas the stereotypical roles that still prevail in developing countries mean most women will have some sewing or weaving or related skill in textiles.  It is just a practical reality that garments and other textile products are going to be the focal area for the women’s economy for many years to come.

So, having WalMart, which sells lots of clothes, weavings, rugs, and so on, engaged as a retailer is very important indeed.  On the ground in Mexico City, they were really the only retailer present in this sector, however.  What that meant was that finely crafted or quirky or one-of-a-kind items made by women were not getting picked up.  I noticed often that something that might be appropriate for, say, Anthropologie, was on offer but was inappropriate for WalMart.  After all, these are different consumer profiles, right? What really needs to happen is that more–and more differentiated–retailers need to jump on this bandwagon.

I figure the best way for this to happen is to be sure there are consumers in this space. So, please, keep your eyes open for opportunities of the women-buying-from-women variety. We need to make a market.

Oh, and BTW, the video introducing this program is very nice.  See below.


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