Better Ways of Working: Notes from the Journey at

Monday, August 23, 2021 - 11:34 am
Kathleen McLaughlin

The challenges of the past year have exacerbated inequities around the world and caused many of us in philanthropy to reflect on how we can change our own ways of working to be more effective partners in transforming societal systems for equity.

At Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, where advancing equity has been central to our mission for years, we have been humbled by the experience of walking alongside our grantees as they address multiple headwinds – from COVID-19 to economic dislocation, from persistent systemic inequities to social polarization. With grit and grace, they have worked to manage the disproportionate effects on vulnerable populations, notably communities of color, while seeking to bring about systemic change .

Like many other funders, we have come out of the past year and a half with even higher ambition as partners in advancing equity, but also a deeper humility. We realize that we need to redouble our efforts to transform ourselves: our culture, our capabilities, and our ways of working for more listening, more learning, more co-creation, and more elevation of the voices and capacity of people at the heart of the communities suffering from inequity. That transformation begins with a focused intentional and holistic  approach to our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. .

At this point in our journey, we are keeping five things in mind.

1)      Advancing equity in society requires a systemic approach. Because the disparities we aim to address are deeply ingrained in society, advancing equity requires shifts in culture, practices, infrastructure, policies, and other aspects of societal systems. More than ever, the team is committed to strengthening our efficacy as partners in systemic change. We are more deeply analyzing the systems at work across each of our program areas, such as Healthier Food for All, Disaster Relief & Preparedness, and Market Access for Smallholder Farmers, to identify philanthropic interventions that can more effectively address root drivers of gender, racial and other inequities. We have focused on Native American, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), Black and African American communities; women; the LGBTQ+ community; and the disability community. Our work has included efforts to bring additional resources to the fight for equity; for example, Walmart was one of the first to pledge support for the mission of the Asian American Foundation (TAAF)to convene, mobilize, and direct investments to address discrimination affecting AAPI people. To sharpen our impact on racial equity across programs, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation also established a Center for Racial Equity, committing $100 million over five years for programs focused on eradicating racial disparities in four systems in the U.S., with an initial focus on the Black and African American community: education/workforce development, finance, criminal justice and health. When we intentionally mirror our values in our philanthropic practice, we help to create long-term sustainable change.  

2)      Philanthropy needs to disrupt itself by upending traditional power dynamics within the field. This means elevating the voices and resources of leaders with lived experience and proximity to  critical social challenges.Walmart and Walmart Foundation are still learning how best to do this as global funders with a small staff, but we must commit to finding new approaches that will help us get closer to communities for co-creation and learning. For us, this will be a journey. To start, we are focusing on both direct support and philanthropic interventions that shift resource flows at scale. Across all our programs, but in particular through the Center for Racial Equity, we seek to be part of a movement to advance equity within the practice of philanthropy itself – shifting power, privilege, and resources to more equitably fund nonprofits led by people of color, specifically Black and African American leaders, and to encourage greater diversity at predominantly white nonprofits. One of the impact areas in the Council on Foundations’ new strategic direction is to “embrace better ways of operating”; we are committed to helping to strengthen the effectiveness and impact of the philanthropic sector by advancing equity in our work.  

3)      Be the change we want to see. Putting equity at the heart of our work requires continued evolution of our policies and practices through a DEI lens, our culture and ways of working and support for the same among grantee organizations. We also strive to build bridges and identify new and creative methods to bring people together. We have redoubled our efforts within to strengthen our culture of inclusion, equity, and belonging within our team through personal reflection, learning journeys, formal training and workshops, and engaging in continuous conversations with internal and external stakeholders (including  tailored questions in grantee perception surveys/engagement). We redesigned our grant application to ask grantees to describe how they are advancing equity within their own organizations as well as through their mission. We have created a community of practice among Walmart and Walmart Foundation grantees to accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusion within their own organizations, including providing grants to organizations within the community of practice to help accelerate their progress and participate in bi-monthly learning sessions on DEI. While we have made and no doubt will continue to make mistakes, we are committed to do our best and learn from all our experiences.

4)      Corporate philanthropists should draw on their unique assets.Corporate philanthropists can engage their colleagues in being levers for change by focusing business capabilities and initiatives toward accelerating the advancement of equity. For example, Walmart has created Shared Value Networks, teams of Walmart leaders, to advance equitable outcomes at scale through business initiatives. These outcomes include:  hiring and training associates (350,000 Black or African American associates employed by Walmart in the U.S.; Black or African Americans make up 11.75% of management ranks and 8.42% of officer ranks as of January 31, 2021); sourcing from diverse suppliers ($13 billion in FY2021 alone); providing affordable, preventative health care services; and advocating for collective solutions to advance racial equity (for example, through the Business Roundtable). Meanwhile, our philanthropic efforts complement and expand this work to accelerate systems change. For example, alongside Walmart’s commitment through the Center for Racial Equity, Walmart joined the One Ten Coalition, a group of American companies committed to upskill, hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with advancement opportunities.

5)      Philanthropy can accelerate progress through knowledge sharing, collective action and good faith. Though every foundation is different, and we may have varying theories of change, we can accelerate progress by sharing our insights, successes, and failures, and learning from each other. The Council  and the Association of Black Foundation Executives(ABFE) are two organizations helping to accelerate shared learning by facilitating connections and the exchange of best practices. The Walmart Foundation recently joined others in supporting ABFE with a capacity-building grant through the Center for Racial Equity; we have also provided support to the Council’s  work on equity. We know that we are stronger when we work together, and we welcome engagement with other funders to learn and collaborate on initiatives to make more of a difference together.

This is an ongoing journey, and we are all partners in building a more equitable and sustainable future. Together, we can strengthen the role of philanthropy in facilitating meaningful, lasting change. 

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Corporate Philanthropy