When it comes to making the case for empowering women entrepreneurs, it’s “mission accomplished,” according to Isobel Coleman, director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy Program, who has researched the issue for many years. Speaking at a December 2012 panel on supply chains, she said most development experts now agree that including women entrepreneurs in global supply chains is “one of the great levers of change” and that “putting more money in the hands of women entrepreneurs” leads to positive outcomes for families, communities and nations. The only question now, she said, is how to accomplish the task.
Walmart’s ambitious plan to double its sourcing from women-owned businesses worldwide–part of its year-old Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative–is an attempt to answer that question by systematically including women-owned businesses in one of the world’s largest supply chains. Observers both inside and outside the international development community are watching the initiative closely to see if Walmart is able to bridge the gap between small-scale female entrepreneurs and the demands of a global supply chain.
“Walmart is creating a global lab for how a company can work to empower women through the supply chain,” said Jennifer Schmidt, a senior development officer at Mercy Corps. “The program is exciting because of the size of the commitment and the diversity of the implementation.”
The initiative is a series of commitments, first announced by Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke in September 2011, that also aims to provide retail training to 200,000 women internationally, disburse $100 million in grants for women entrepreneurs, launch a new e-commerce outlet on walmart.com featuring products created by female entrepreneurs, and push its own suppliers to include more women in their supply chain, among other goals.