Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wal-Mart Foundation encourages consolidation of non-profits

Wal-mart's Charity Chief, Margaret McKenna
Wal-mart, the great destroyer of small busines, now has its eye on consolidating the nonprofit sector
An interesting perspective from the Wal-mart Charity Chief, thanks to
Boston has too many nonprofit groups, Wal-Mart Foundation President Margaret McKenna said at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

And instead of fighting for survival in an economic downturn, these groups ought to be looking for ways to work together while continuing their mission, she said.

McKenna, the former president of Lesley College, made her comments during a well-attended Boston Harbor Hotel gathering sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

“The argument that ‘our organization will go out of business’ doesn’t resonate with me,” said McKenna, whose foundation distributed nearly $300 million in 2007.

What does resonate, she said, is, “Our population will not be served.”

In her 30-minute talk, McKenna, 63, said she once had serious reservations about working for Wal-Mart, a mega-retailer with a reputation for providing low wages and poor benefits to its workers.

But her research, and subsequent experience with the company, led her to a different conclusion. Yesterday, she said Wal-Mart’s salaries and benefits “are as good as any of the big-box stores.”

She said the retailer has begun providing better health-care coverage for its workers, and she credited the company for “giving back to the community.”

In Massachusetts, she said, an entry-level Wal-Mart employee makes $11.50 an hour.

“Do I wish there was a different model, and people were paid $20 an hour? Yes,” she said.

But, she added, the company does offer solid opportunities for advancement.

“Seventy-five percent of the store managers started out as hourly employees,” she said. “Most of them only have high school degrees, and they are making $200,000 a year.

“I think Wal-Mart is one of the few remaining companies in America that can say that,” she said.

After McKenna’s comments, Deborah Re, chief executive of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, said she agreed with McKenna’s call for collaboration among local charities.

“She’s right. It’s got to be about the kids,” Re said.
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