An Arkansas Story: How Walmart is Investing in Women and Girls Around the World

May 1, 2024 By Elizabeth Onibokun

Last month, the USGLC celebrated International Women’s Day by hosting a roundtable with Walmart and the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). The event focused on educating and engaging leaders in Arkansas on the importance of development and diplomacy, while highlighting the work of Walmart and EXIM to empower women abroad and create jobs for workers here at home.

As part of USGLC’s South Initiative, we hosted an important event in Bentonville, AR, home of Walmart. The women-led panel consisted of two incredible leaders with ties to Arkansas – Judith Pryor, First Vice President and Vice Chair of EXIM, and Sarah Thorn, Senior Director for Global Government Affairs at Walmart alongside a variety of high-level attendees, including mayors, female small business owners, and Congressional staffers.

Judith Pryor gave a brief overview of EXIM, explaining that 95% of the world’s customers live outside of America’s borders and that the agency is focused on U.S. job growth by providing markets and opportunities for American exporters, including focusing on businesses owned by women, veterans, and those with disabilities.

Sarah Thorn explained that Walmart’s Global Economic Empowerment Initiative began over a decade ago, when Walmart had to “make the case” that empowering women around the world made economic sense. Now, more people and companies recognize the benefits. Through the initiative, Walmart also had to be thoughtful about the types of support that were most needed by women in their supply chain – for example, instead of just training women farmers, could they provide daycare as well?

Walmart continues to help lead the way on how investing in women and girls makes a difference around the world. The company’s Vriddhi program focuses on helping Indian micro, small, and medium enterprises expand their domestic capabilities which is no small feat. For Aruna Dara in Telangana, India the Vriddhi program has been an invaluable asset for her entrepreneurship journey.

Dara and her business partner created Apna Green Products. Their product uses banana fiber, which is an agricultural waste product typically burned, to make biodegradable sanitary napkins. This innovative product addresses two critical global issues: environmental waste and period poverty. With only 4% of all biopharma research and development (R&D) spending going toward female-specific conditions, there is a severe gender health gap. Programs like Walmart Vriddhi address these gaps and further empower women in a space that has not been built for them. Dara is grateful for how the Walmart Vriddhi program has provided helpful resources and vital networking opportunities that have led to introductions to key NGOs. Through the program, Dara has also learned about the importance of eCommerce to businesses and how to make the most of digital channels to help build their brand presence, manage business inputs, and make supply chain management easier.

Chanda Sharma of Delhi also credits the Walmart Vriddhi program for opening doors for her and providing support when she needed it most. Sharma and her husband set up the Delhi Gift House, a wholesaler of decorative gift items, in 2018. But after the tragic loss of her husband in 2021 to COVID-19 — she was on her own. Sharma credits the Vriddhi program with helping to reignite her business by providing training sessions, connecting her with other entrepreneurs in the community, and sharing vital business advice. Since joining the Walmart Vriddhi team, Sharma says her business has grown “10 times over.” With big plans, Chanda Sharma wants to eventually invest in her own factory so that she can be able to employ more women and generate more employment opportunities.

Our International Women’s Day roundtable in Arkansas may have been last month but that doesn’t mean the conversation stops there. Women’s economic empowerment is always an important topic, especially for what it means for U.S. global leadership, because when women are economically empowered, they invest in their communities and families contributing to a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world for all.