International Sourcing

Published on April 10, 2017 and last updated on August 02, 2019

In each of our markets around the world, the Walmart Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) team aimed to develop a supplier base for sourcing through women-owned businesses (WOBs) using tailored, market-driven solutions.
Women-owned business leaders

In each of our markets around the world, the Walmart Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) team aimed to develop a supplier base for sourcing through women-owned businesses (WOBs) using tailored, market-driven solutions.

We worked with a variety of organizations to identify WOBs. We then established baselines, assessed the types of WOBs in our supplier base, identified the common challenges for buyers and suppliers and fostered solutions that helped bridge those challenges while also respecting the business goals and local culture.

Based on the Walmart WEE team’s experience, we outline the following practices and resources for consideration by those interested in building a WOB sourcing program.

What we did:

  • Step 1: Start the Process
    Video: Getting Started in International Markets.

    Set up infrastructure and budget: Create a dedicated team and budget to build the strategy and execute the goals, with support from senior leadership.
    • Create a strong business case showing shared value.
    • Identify additional resources needed.
    • Seek budget approval.
    • Create dedicated team for a defined period of time.
    • Create a steering committee of senior leadership to guide and support the initiative.

    Analyze market readiness and country infrastructure: Develop a tailored strategy based on the local ecosystem, culture and legal restrictions.
    • Analyze market readiness and country infrastructure.
    • Research cultural and legal barriers.
      • What are current challenges to women’s economic empowerment in that country?
      • What are current trends in that country around supporting women’s empowerment?
      • What are the current business growth goals? What will the business look like in five years?
      • Are there certain geographies where the business is interested in expanding?
    • Choose one to two markets per year to allow for implementation, testing, learning and expansion.
  • Step 2: Cultivate Champions
    Video: Engage the International Market

    Conduct Baseline Study to identify WOBs: Communicate a clear definition of WOB and assess current level of WOB sourcing
    • Ensure that adequate internal systems for tracking WOB sourcing exist.
    • Communicate the definition of WOB as 51% ownership of assets by a woman or women, with a woman or women managing the business.
    • Identify existing WOB suppliers.

    Build internal relationships: It is critical to get buy-in from local stakeholders, particularly merchants, in introducing new approaches to WOB sourcing.
    • Travel to market for in-person meetings.
    • Build in-country advocates, starting with senior leadership.
    Krish Iyer Quote
  • Align with the business strategy.
  • Meet with buyers to understand their challenges.
  • Meet with existing WOBs to understand their challenges.
  • Create an external advisory council of independent stakeholders from academia and nonprofits to advise and advocate.
  • Step 3: Develop Market Strategy
    How to Video: Developing a Market Strategy for an International Market

    Align with business needs and goals: The market strategy should be achievable with the resources available.
    • Apply strategic framework.
    • Develop program objectives.
    • Where possible, align with a government initiative.
    • Prioritize geographies.
    • Identify up-trending categories and gaps in the assortment where there are growth opportunities for suppliers.
    • Discuss options for training curriculums with third-party organizations.

    Agree on activities and responsibilities: Be clear about the time required of local teams and agree on resources and project management skills that can be provided.
    • Chart proposed activities, responsibilities and team resources.
    • Agree on timeline for activities.
    • Assign a dedicated local team member to communicate and manage the project in collaboration with a member of the central team.
    • Limit the level of resources asked of each market.
  • Step 4: Grow Pipeline of High-potential WOB Suppliers
    Find and vet viable WOBs: Identifying existing WOB suppliers and finding new WOBs that have the potential to do business with a larger corporation can be a challenge in developing markets.
    Build supplier capacity: In many markets it is necessary to introduce tools and training so WOBs can build capacity to supply large corporations.
    • Identify WOBs that meet market needs and have the desire and potential to scale; basic criteria could include minimum size, minimum years in business and a desire to grow.
    • Consider using a third party, if needed, for training and solicit proposals.
    • Agree on curriculum, timing and budget.
    • For example, WEConnect International produced modules to help suppliers learn how to do business with corporations.

    Support access to financing: Women face significant obstacles gaining access to capital in nearly every market, making education and training necessary for both WOBs and lenders.
    • Evaluate lending practices in each market.
    • Search for other programs in each market that you could tie into. For example, Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women program has provided training and other support to women entrepreneurs in more than 50 countries.
    • Training curriculum should cover business planning and how to make a pitch to a lender.
    • In addition, some WOBs need help building a cost-component sheet to understand the true cost of their products. This helps the WOB factor in hidden costs and track the cost of the commodities they use. See an example Component Cost Template.
    • Provide WOBs with opportunities to connect with banks that have favorable products for women or incentives to lend to women.
  • Step 5: Provide Internal Support
    Avoid adding to buyer workload by modifying existing processes and systems to make WOB initiatives part of the culture.

    Support buyers: Buyers need education and incentives to motivate them to increase sourcing from WOBs.
    • Leadership and peer recognition is important and motivating.
    • Develop buyer recognition initiatives to highlight performance of top buyers in regard to WOB sourcing.
    • Identify champions within business to promote the initiative.
    • Communicate the program to the organization as a way to give associates greater purpose in their work.

    Develop tools and resources: Tools should be simple to use to minimize time requirement for buyers.
    • Develop a scorecard to help buyers to identify and assess their progress with WOBs.
    • Set up a global directory to catalog WOBs the company procures from globally.
    • Support consumer research to assess potential sales uplift.

    Embed into the business: Simplify the process of finding, onboarding and scaling WOBs and embed within existing processes instead of creating new steps.
    • Develop systematic process for identifying and tracking WOBs.
    • Work toward making the WOB initiatives self-funded and self-guided.
    • Consistently communicate the purpose of the initiative so that the development of WOB suppliers becomes a part of the culture.
  • Step 6: Build Relationships
    Media coverage of efforts to support women suppliers builds reputation and can help to give license to operate in some countries.

    Sponsor events to communicate success stories and progress: Keep stakeholders engaged by showcasing successes.
    • Hold milestone events to communicate progress to stakeholders.
    • Hold WEE events to promote key success stories and attract more WOB suppliers.
    • Where appropriate, promote programs with government stakeholders.
    India Graduation Picture
  • Promote WOB sourcing to drive sales lift from WOB products.
  • Provide speaking opportunities for leadership in local markets and at corporate events.

  • Create videos and fact sheets: Bringing a personal perspective with videos of women who have been trained helps inspire associates in the market as well as outside stakeholders.
    • Sponsor videos of success stories for use in market and at home.
    • Show videos at stakeholder events.
    • Create fact sheets for internal and external speaking engagements for those not as close to the details or for media interviews.


Walmart has established baselines in six markets: Central America, Chile, China, India, Japan and Mexico.

Measured Outcomes: From 2011 through 2016, spend increased 114% in Mexico; 22% in Central America. From 2014 through 2016, spend in India with WOBs increased by 20%.

Between 2011 and 2013, Japan experienced an increase in annual spend; however, between 2014-2016 this market experienced a slight decrease.

China only recently established a baseline to measure spend with WOBs, and we anticipate sharing this market’s progress in the future.

Market Example Initiative
Central America

In 2015 Walmart in Central America implemented the Agora program, an initiative designed to help train five WOBs on how to pitch their social enterprises to investors. The first part of the program involved 15 hours of intensive accelerator training for five high-performing WOBs. The second part involved accompanying the women to SOCAP, a leading social impact conference in San Francisco, and helping facilitate meetings for with potential investors.

In addition, in 2016 Walmart Central America replicated the Adopta Una PyME program, including 72 WOBs (out of 342 suppliers). From 2012-2016, Walmart Central America also had a program called Mano Para Crecer, which as trained 153 small women-owned businesses. Walmart Central America increased spend with WOBs by 22% between 2012-2016.

Chile In 2016, Walmart Chile launched an accelerator program with Aproxima that supported 11 WOBs as well as setting up other initiatives to increase engagement such as a breakfast forum for WOBs to meet with Walmart representatives. Walmart Chile continues in 2017 to work with Aproxima on capacity training with WOBs.

In 2014, 2015 and 2016 Walmart China and Walmart Global Sourcing have worked together to promote initiatives to increase sourcing from women at the China Import & Export Fair (Canton Fair). At the session held in October 2016, Walmart trainers shared Walmart’s sourcing processes and requirements for domestic and overseas suppliers. Discussions were conducted with over 70 WOBs, and 15 potential suppliers received training.

In 2017, Walmart China plans to create training modules for selected women-owned businesses.

India Starting in 2016 In India, Walmart worked with Vrutti and WEConnect International on an initiative to identify high-potential WOBs that received capacity-building training, mentoring and technical support customized to the needs of their businesses over a nine-month period. At the end of the program, 11 of the WOBs in the program were onboarded to become Walmart suppliers for India.
Japan In 2014, Walmart Japan launched three online contests for women entrepreneurs to win the opportunity to have their products sold on Walmart’s Japanese website. Between 2011 and 2013, Japan experienced an increase in annual spend; however, between 2014-2016 this market experienced a slight decrease for an overall decrease of 29% for the 5 year period tracked.

Walmart Mexico worked with Endeavor, a non-profit that aims to grow entrepreneurs, on an accelerator program to support high-potential WOBs. The program delivered tailored one-on-one mentorship to 11 WOBs, as well as support around governance and risk management and interaction with Endeavour’s entrepreneurship network. As of early 2017, Endeavour began to support a new cohort of 13 WOB suppliers.

Walmart Mexico has also implemented its Adopta Una PyME program, an initiative to support small and medium enterprises in selling to Walmart. Participants attend supplier summits and receive support on SKUs and packaging, systems and logistics. Participants also receive individual support from Walmart’s supplier development team and an extra meeting with their buyer. Walmart Mexico supported 42 WOBs in Adopta Una PyME since the program began. Due in part to the success of these programs, Walmart Mexico doubled the spend with WOBs between 2012-2016.

As a result of the programs, many WOBs have become new suppliers to Walmart and a number of existing WOB suppliers were able to substantially grow their sales.

Lessons Learned

  • Understand each market’s unique cultural, social and legal challenges and align with each market’s business needs and goals.
  • Travel to the market to build relationships and gain support from senior leadership to help drive engagement throughout the organization.
  • Research systems available in market for systematic identification and tracking. Seek advice from the market on any local third-party vendors you are considering engaging.
  • When possible, stick with one third-party for a project. If you must use two, be clear on roles and deliverables and set weekly communication calls between the two.
  • Meet with buyers and women business owners to understand their challenges. Level-set their expectations - i.e. training does not guarantee sourcing agreement.
  • Form a network with peers from other corporations that are involved in similar work. Celebrate successes globally and share best practices.

Join us in a collective public commitment!

Clinton Global Initiative
Starting in September 2015, CGI convened leading corporations, NGOs and multilateral organizations to develop a multi-stakeholder commitment to advance the United Nations' gender-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building on the successful 2013 commitment related to advancing women-owned businesses in global value chains, the new commitment seeks to broaden the goals to encompass not only economic participation but to address specific social, legal and cultural barriers that hinder gender equality globally.

  • The new commitment focuses on three core areas:
    1. Promoting women's economic participation;
    2. Addressing violence against girls and women, and
    3. Advancing women's leadership in both private and public sectors
  • The commitment is supported by many leading NGOs (Vital Voices, No Ceilings, CARE, Catalyst, WEConnect International), corporations and multi-lateral organizations (UN Women).
  • WEConnect International is spearheading a commitment focused on aggregate-spend goals with women-owned businesses, partnering with corporation members such as EY, Freeport-McMoRan, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Walmart. Collectively, these organizations commit to expand their inclusive sourcing initiatives by collectively spending at least $15 billion with women-owned businesses globally over the next five years.

Additional Resources