Opportunity

How Tech Can Bridge the Employment Opportunity Gap

Having recently arrived to the U.S. from Cape Verde, Africa, Solange is eager to improve her English and pass her citizenship exam. She hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and build a brighter future for her two young girls.

Now a hotel room attendant, she has limited time to study. But through a new program available on her smartphone, she can take courses anytime, anywhere, right from the palm of her hand.

Technology is quickly changing how we live our lives, helping to make so many things easier, cheaper and faster. It’s also changing the way we work. Research suggests that innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly shift what certain types of work look like in the future.

While these changes might cause some to worry, they also provide an incredible opportunity to help us work in ways we haven’t before. Imagine being able to match your unique skillsets, strengths and personality in a way that helps you find the right job. Or learning new skills through an app or platform that performs as easily as social media does. Or technology that connects you directly to services that can help overcome specific career barriers.

Helping bring technologies like these to life is exactly what the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) has set out to do. Funded by the Walmart, Rockefeller, Joyce and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions that help workers overcome the barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills, connecting to meaningful work and ultimately living up to their full potential. In doing so, the ETF strives to increase equal opportunities for millions of working adults – many of whom are women, minorities and immigrants.

ETF's latest social investments include Signal Vine, a company that uses text messaging to deliver highly personalized and interactive coaching to drive better behaviors and outcomes; SkillSmart, a skills-matching platform that increases transparency in the career development and job search process; and Nepris, a video-driven platform that provides teachers and students a way to connect with professionals around the world. These three companies exemplify a growing force of new entrepreneurs who share the belief that technology can drive social and economic progress.

With additional funding from the Walmart Foundation, ETF is working with The EdTech Center at World Education to field test the products ETF has invested in and provide the larger workforce development field with information about effective employment technology products and practices.

Currently, World Education is field testing ETF’s first two portfolio companies– Cell-Ed and Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment – both of which have national and international reach. In Boston, Seaport Hotel employees who are studying workplace English have just started extending their learning on Cell-Ed, a mobile solution offering interactive text and audio lessons over cellular, rather than internet. Adult learners, including refugees and dislocated workers, in computer and job skills programs across Minneapolis and at libraries in Providence, Rhode Island, user tested newly updated Northstar assessments before formal release last week.

When we embrace the changes technology innovation sends our way, we’re better able to harness the opportunities it provides us. ETF is proud to be working together with like-minded companies and organizations to find technology solutions that will help bring meaningful employment to all.

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Business

Meet the Mother-Daughter Team Behind the Season’s Happiest Planner

There’s something about fall that feels like a second New Year. With back-to-school season in full swing, we’re all gearing up with new schedules and new goals to carry us through December.

Most of the time, those new goals are a clear signal that it’s time to get organized – and maybe even a little inspired. That’s something mother-daughter duo Terri Gick and Stephanie Fleming have been doing professionally for almost 20 years in their hometown of Fountain Valley, California.

When Terri and Stephanie first launched their brand of scrapbooking accessories, Me & My Big Ideas, it was just a small operation carried out of Stephanie’s own garage.

“At the start, we were just looking to start something new,” Stephanie said. “My mom was in the craft industry for 25 years and had just sold her company, and we both wanted to do something creative and to start a business. We saw that scrapbooking was on the rise and there was a need for a product – fun, decorative stickers – that just wasn’t out there.”

Over the last 20 years, the business has grown from a small, out-of-home venture to a full business operation in a 60,000-square-foot facility. After hiring a designer to develop their first 12 sticker designs, Terri and Stephanie quickly realized the importance of investing in their niche community of women with a dual passion for organization and inspiration, and decided to expand their team.

“Something we’ve done really well – as neither of us is an actual artist – is build an amazing team of designers,” Terri said. “It’s helped us forecast what the contemporary creative woman is doing, and ways in which we’re able to participate in her journey. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there a missing piece in the market we could fill to help that person live creatively?’”

The two have since expanded their product line to include The Happy Planner, a product that’s on our shelves now and through the fall that’s chock-full of customizable calendars to get you organized according to your goals and positive mantras to keep you going when your days get full.

“It’s a product that combines a love for creativity with a need for organization,” Stephanie said. “Our customer base is about 98% female, and as female entrepreneurs, we’ve found that we have the ability to forge an instant connection with them. It’s a real blessing.”

For Stephanie, that engagement with passionate customers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of building her business. She’s become personally invested in the growing community of creative women looking for engaging ways to organize their lives, even speaking to a convention of 1,300 women looking to connect.

“Through our business, we haven’t stopped at making a product or even just a brand – we’re able to become a part of the culture and connect with some really amazing women with similar interests. And that’s really special.”

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Opportunity

Surprise, You’re Promoted! Meet Associate Tanaka Chikerema

When Tanaka Chikerema walked into Bud Walton Arena on Friday morning, he was already anticipating the moment he would walk on stage in front of thousands of his fellow associates –he just never expected that Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., would offer him a promotion when he did.

It’s pretty unusual for a CEO to promote one of his field associates on stage in front of an international audience. But then again, so is the path that led Tanaka from the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe all the way to a stage in Northwest Arkansas.

“I was seven when my mom moved to the U.S.,” Tanaka recalls, “and I was just starting high school in Harare when she called and said it was time for me and my brother to move to Plano, Texas.”

In Zimbabwe, Tanaka’s mother, Dorcus, supported her family as a geography teacher. But economic hardships that still affect the country today created a system of poverty and crime, and she knew that even with a college education her children wouldn’t get the opportunities they deserved if they stayed in Harare.

Over the next seven years, Dorcus earned her nursing degree overseas while supporting her family with the income from three jobs.

“We were all living in one house together, my grandparents, cousins, brother and me,” said Tanaka. “To send any of us to school, there had to be a choice about who it was going to be. My mom knew that if we stayed in Harare, there was a good chance we could end up on the streets or getting into trouble.

“She always told us, ‘I just want you to stay focused. I just want you to have goals and stay on track.’”

When Tanaka graduated from high school in Plano, his mother’s words stuck with him. A job as a part-time truck unloader at his local Walmart quickly advanced as his managers recognized his potential. Within a year, Tanaka was promoted to supervisor. The words of his first mentor, Joe Riviera, still stick with him today: “If you show up and give 110%, it will pay off. It will always pay off.”

And it did. On stage at Walmart’s Associate Meeting, in front of thousands of his colleagues, Tanaka was promoted to a store support manager and recognized for the hours of energy and focus he’s dedicated to the company.

“It humbles me to think about how good my life is now,” Tanaka said, “and how much further I have to go. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that my mom was always right: ‘Get ready for the future, because you never know what it might hold.’”

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Innovation

Meet Waymo, Your New Self-Driving Grocery Chauffeur

Think back 10 years ago when shopping online for your groceries seemed like something only the Jetsons did. Today, it’s everywhere. Walmart is leading the way with more than 1,500 locations with hundreds more to come just this year.

Now, think about self-driving cars. They still seem really far off to me … but they aren’t. They’re on roads today, without drivers.

We’re always thinking of ways we can serve our customers now and into the future. And we’re looking at different technology and capabilities that keep customers loving the time-saving, wallet-saving service that is Online Grocery for years to come. So, enter a small pilot project we’re running with Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project.

Waymo is a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around – without the need for anyone in the driver’s seat. They’ve safely self-driven over 8 million miles on roads across 25 U.S. cities already. We’re working with them on an online grocery pilot project – limited to a group within Waymo’s 400 daily users known as "early riders"– that will run out of one Walmart store in Chandler, Arizona.

Those in the pilot simply place an Online Grocery Pickup order at walmart.com/grocery. Our personal shoppers get to work meticulously picking customers’ orders based on their pickup times. Waymo does the rest. They transport customers to and from pickup, and all the while, those customers can text, nap, work... you name it.

The purpose of all of this: to learn. While giving customers a unique experience with amazing technology, we’re learning how we can make Walmart Online Grocery Pickup even more convenient. Waymo’s experience, industry leading technology and mission on safety is helping us enter this space in the right way.

We’re excited to see what this pilot and the future hold.

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Life

Video: How This Special Olympian Found Her Power

Elizabeth "Liz" Hubert, 22, is a seasoned competitor.

She got into powerlifting about eight years ago. Since then, she’s competed at state, national and world events with the Special Olympics. Most recently, she represented Oklahoma at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games held July 1-6 in Seattle.

When Liz isn’t training, she works in the bakery at the Catoosa, Oklahoma, supercenter. She was one of at least 14 associates who participated in the games this year. Her fellow Walmart Special Olympians ranged in age from 21 to 51 and competed in a variety of events, including softball, bowling, shot put and running.

Liz competed for four golds this year in deadlift, squat, bench press and overall combined. It was a weighty goal – she can lift more than 200 pounds in the deadlift alone.

Watch below to follow Liz on her 2018 Special Olympics journey.

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