by Brian Lipton


The Walmart Foundation and the Aspen Institute have announced a $5.5 million grant to explore business models designed to support workers and sustain a thriving retail industry. The Aspen Institute, known for pioneering new approaches to complex problems, will combine key learnings from a number of its programs with the goal of building a system where retail workers can gain skills and achieve upward mobility.

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting retail salesperson as the most common job in America, the largest portion of the grant is dedicated to exploring alternative models to provide career pathways for frontline retail workers. The Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program is working in partnership with Corporation for a Skilled Workforce on the Reimagine Retail initiative, which will develop retail sector-specific worker advancement and systems change strategies that could be adapted for communities across the United States. Through the grant, the Aspen Institute and the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce will also engage in primary and secondary research to develop and document strategies, explore interventions at five sites to determine best practices in the retail sector, and refine implementation guides and tools based on outcomes.

The grant also supports the Institute’s 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, led by the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, to support a coalition of over 40 employers, primarily retailers and restaurants, working to hire and retain opportunity youth; the Working in America event series led by the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program; and Upskill America, a growing network of leading organizations, companies, innovators, and funders that seeks to accelerate employer-led workforce pathways for frontline workers to gain the skills they need to advance in the workplace.

“Retail is a critical part of our nation’s economy and an industry we can’t afford to ignore,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer for Walmart. “Bringing stronger retail workforce development requires organizations across the spectrum—foundations, training providers, government bodies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector—all working together to improve career pathways for people.”

“Developing the next generation of workforce strategies requires a wide range of organizations coming together to play a positive role. We’re excited for the opportunity to work with the Walmart Foundation to improve the systems currently in place in the retail sector,” said Maureen Conway, vice president of policy programs and executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program, the Aspen Institute. “Through our collaboration, we’re working to encourage innovative practices among retailers that are succeeding today by investing in their workers and building their skills. The lessons learned from the retail sector have relevance beyond retail, and will meaningfully contribute to the broader national conversation about the business practices, local programs, and public policies needed to promote a strong economy and provide expanded opportunities for all workers.”