Philanthropy Can Enable Thriving Communities by Building Common Ground

Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 9:23 am
Kathleen McLaughlin

This blog is part of the Council's Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference? 

I once heard Deb and Jim Fallows, authors of "Our Towns," talk about their epic 100,000-mile road trip from one end of the country to the other, through the heartland and (way!) off the beaten path. 

Along the way they talked with many people. They were surprised to find that despite national narratives of polarization and mistrust, people expressed profound compassion for others and were collaborating across lines of difference to address significant local issues. 

It made me think about the opportunity for philanthropy – and our philanthropy at, attached as we are to an omnichannel retailer – to build common ground as an enabler of thriving communities. represents the philanthropic efforts of both Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.

When I visit communities across this country, I’m struck by how Walmart is a gathering place for families and neighbors to shop and spend time with one another. And I’m so proud of my fellow associates, drawn from many different backgrounds, working together with respect and camaraderie to serve customers and create a place of belonging. Creating connections in communities includes empowering our associates to foster strong relationships among each other and their neighbors. philanthropy complements and expands the community impact of Walmart’s retail presence. For example, our Spark Good platform helps customers and associates support local causes they care about through store grants, matching campaigns, volunteerism, and a charitable product registry.

I’m excited about our growing grant portfolio focused on bringing people together for meaningful encounters and equipping them with the skills to build trust and empathy.

Some recent examples:

Sharing stories
We’ve invested in organizations helping people build trust through sharing their stories. For example, Walmart Foundation funds StoryCorps, which facilitates conversations between people with different viewpoints through its One Small Step program. The results are encouraging – a recent poll revealed that after one-on-one conversations, program participants felt more empathy not only toward their conversation partner - but also generally toward others with different political views.

Strengthening collective settings
We’re funding pilot projects that facilitate connections among people from different backgrounds in places where they already naturally come together, such as new mothers’ groups or recreation centers. For example, Walmart Foundation recently provided a grant to Trust for Public Land (TPL) with the goal of building friendships and community resilience by engaging people in park revitalization.

Building skills that create connections
We invest in organizations teaching local leaders how they can effectively foster connections among people with different backgrounds. A Walmart Foundation grant supports Welcoming America in teaching leaders in geographically and politically diverse communities how to welcome newcomers, with the goal of deepening connections among neighbors.

Thank you to the Council on Foundations for its invitation for all of us to engage in constructive dialogue across differences. Our society needs philanthropy as a catalyst and as a role model. I’m eager to exchange lessons with colleagues across foundations about what works and what doesn’t, so as a field we can focus on making the most difference.

Additional Dialogue Across Difference Blog Posts

Read responses in our Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference?

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Building Common Ground