As part of the Student Communications Team I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing briefly Margaret McKenna, President of the Walmart Foundation, one of the largest corporate giving institutions in the US. Margaret’s speech was inspirational for many reasons but in particular I was impressed by her statement that ‘students recognize insincerity’. This was proved correct as I interviewed her and was amazed by the honesty and integrity of this former civil rights lawyer who has now embraced a high profile position with a corporate giant.
Nagging in my mind was the current controversy over Wallmart’s arrival in South Africa, and so contrary to journalistic advice I began with the most controversial question and asked Margaret what thoughts she had on this and any plans for the future in South Africa. Margaret’s main priority is the local community, and she has plans to travel to South Africa in the near future to engage with Massmart and figure out plans and strategies for giving back to the community.
Much of Margret’s speech mentioned projects in the US and I wondered with the chain now having an international element did the foundation have any international initiatives. Margaret mentioned the most recent development in the store’s international policy had been to introduce a requirement that all stores must give at least one percent of their net profit back to the community.
With Margaret having worked in a variety of sectors I asked whether she thought collaboration between NGO’s, non-profit groups and big business was possible. ‘Absolutely’ was her reply. For Margaret, the only way to solve any of the world’s major problems was through collaboration between all sectors.
With the Wallmart Foundation engaged in a myriad of charitable initiatives I was curious to know whether Margaret had a favorite or most rewarding project. Without a doubt she considered YouthBuild the project that had the biggest impact on her. This community development program engages with youths in low-income communities many of whom had dropped out of high school, and provides them with alternative, vocational training. Margaret said she was inspired to see teenage mothers from low-income families, completing high school, going on to higher education and getting stable jobs.
I concluded our brief talk by asking Margaret what she considered the biggest challenge in her work with the Wallmart Foundation. For Margaret this was the challenge of having to prioritize what initiatives and programs the Walmart Foundation could make the most sustainable impact on. With so many deserving projects, it is difficult at times to see where the Foundation could make the most lasting impact.
I would like to thank Margaret for her time, her inspiring speech, and her progressive work with the Walmart Foundation.