Northwestern University — with social impact consulting firm Mission Measurement and international development experts DAI — will evaluate a newly announced Walmart initiative designed to empower 60,000 women working in factories supplying the multinational retail giant and other retailers.

The five-year initiative announced by Walmart earlier this month will target women in India, Bangladesh, China and Central America and, collaborating with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), teach them critical life skills including hygiene, communications, reproductive health and occupational health and safety.

“Walmart’s decision to invest in rigorous, third-party evaluation of its program speaks to their commitment to demonstrate real impact on the women in their supply chain,” said primary investigator Jason Saul. Saul, a Kellogg School of Management faculty member and CEO of Mission Measurement, will serve as the evaluation team’s primary investigator.

The Walmart Women in Factories Initiative will be rolled out to 150 factories in India, Bangladesh, China and Central America over the next five years, initially launching in Bangladesh and India in 2012. The program’s curriculum was designed by and will be implemented in collaboration with NGOs CARE in Bangladesh and SWASTI in India.

“The Northwestern team, Mission Measurement and DAI will determine the effects of the program, and we’ll use data to improve it going forward,” Saul said. Brian Hanson, director of programs, research and operations at Northwestern’s Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, also serves as a lead investigator.

The Buffett Center, which sponsors and facilitates collaborative interdisciplinary scholarship on crucial problems facing the world, is administering the research grant.

Leveraging the expertise of Northwestern faculty and staff, the Northwestern team will contribute to both the initiative’s evaluation design and methodology and will review findings. They also will ensure that the evaluation is fair — that it focuses on meaningful impact; is inclusive of current thinking on development outcomes and impact; and uses proven measurement methodologies.

“The Northwestern team will provide research-based input to both the program’s design and evaluation,” Hanson added. “We will help Walmart understand what constitutes meaningful change in the context of the program.”

In addition to Saul and Hanson, Buffett Center assistant director Nicole Patel has been part of the evaluation design to-date. In February, a panel of Northwestern faculty with experience in gender issues, health outcomes and development was convened to collaborate on the evaluation design. In coming weeks, Northwestern will help to finalize the measurement methodology and reconvene the faculty panel to review findings as they become available.

The Northwestern team will work to ensure that:

  • The training and education program is comprehensive and designed to empower women at work, home and in their communities;
  • The initiative teaches participating suppliers and factory managers how to permanently sustain and replicate the program; and
  • The curriculum developed by the NGOs in consultation with Walmart Ethical Sourcing will be shared with other retailers to potentially implement within their supply chains.

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