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Gap Invests in the Women that Make Its Clothes: Improving Women's Lives and Benefitting Businesses

Today, the Stanford Graduate School of Business published a case study describing the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program.

Last week, the Stanford Graduate School of Business published a case study describing the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program: the rationale behind the program's launch, successes to date, and future challenges. The P.A.C.E. program is an initiative that teaches life skills and provides technical training to women working in garment factories.

Gap has long been committed to communities through Gap Foundation, but until 2005 its philanthropic efforts could best be described as "a scattergun approach," supporting a range of domestic youth programs and international community projects. "We weren't experts in any of these areas, so essentially we were writing checks," said Bobbi Silten, Senior Vice President, Global Responsibility, Gap Inc., and President, Gap Foundation. Silten led Gap Inc. in examining its long-term philanthropic strategy, tying the work more closely to its business interests, expertise, and existing assets.

Gap Inc. understood the importance of impacting the broad range of communities where it does business, including the countries where its clothes are made. In these countries, investing in women would have a ripple effect, improving women’s lives, but also their families and communities.

Gap considered the value of its expertise in the business space and the importance of pairing these skills with trusted NGOs who were already working in local communities where garment factories were located. They began a partnership with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and Swasti Health Resource Centre to determine how to support these communities. With ICRW and Swasti, Gap Inc. recognized that despite the fact that approximately 80% of garment workers are women, they often did not have the skills and education to advance in their jobs at factories. "We weren't educators but we had access to women in garment factories, that's part of leveraging the company assets in creating a virtuous cycle," said Silten.

The company realized it had an opportunity to leverage its experience and relationships to improve the lives of female garment workers and provide the education and training they need to move forward at work and in life. This became P.A.C.E. Many of the women who enroll in the program come from the poorest communities in their country, where they aren't given the resources to reach their full potential.

P.A.C.E. program participant Ema, an Indonesian garment factory worker, says she benefited greatly from the financial literacy module. The skills she’s learned, managing personal finances and setting long-term goals, have helped her start a small business in her free time.

Ema’s story so inspired Gap that it included her in a film as part of One Stitch Closer, a program that demonstrates Gap’s long-standing commitment to supporting women.

Investing in female garment workers also has a direct impact on a factory’s bottom line. More highly skilled workers are more productive, efficient, and likely to continue working at the factory.

“This program was designed to have both a social and business impact,” said Dotti Hatcher, Executive Director, P.A.C.E. Global Initiatives, Gap Inc.

The strategies implemented by P.A.C.E. can even the odds for working women in developing countries and build valuable human capital for their employers, a win-win situation that can change the way that companies do business in the 21st century.

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