Laysha Ward

Wellness for All: A Look at What’s Next for Target’s CSR Strategy

It’s an exciting time of year for the Target team. This week, team members from across the country are gathering in Minneapolis for the annual Fall National Sales Meeting—an event packed with company news, updates and often a few surprises. Yesterday, at a special kickoff event, Laysha Ward, chief corporate social responsibility (CSR) officer, shared some exciting news: Target is evolving its CSR strategy to focus on wellness. What does that mean, exactly? We sat down with Laysha to learn more.

You just announced that Target’s new CSR strategy will be centered around wellness. Why is Target making this shift? 
We know our guests care about wellness and are focused on making better choices for themselves, their families and communities. Plus, for the first time in centuries, our children are expected to have shorter life expectancies than we are. Through this shift in strategy, we want to improve the health of the nation by making wellness the way of life. We'll get there by making healthy eating, active living and clean-label product solutions (think simple, recognizable, easy to read ingredients and materials) more affordable, accessible and inspiring. We're going to have a full range of partnerships and programs dedicated to wellness that build on our legacy of work in education, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and addressing local community needs. Bottom line: It's important to our guests and to us.

Aren’t there a lot of companies already focused on wellness? Why is it important for Target to be in that space?
There are companies focused on wellness, which is a great thing for everyone. But where Target stands out from the competition is in our holistic, integrated approach that includes not only our guests, but our team members and communities. We are in a unique position to use our size and reach to deliver both business and societal impact. It is one of our signature business categories (in addition to baby, kids and style), it is now the focus for our CSR strategy, and it is a priority for our team member engagement. We’ll be able to use Target’s unique capabilities and work with strategic partners to help people overcome barriers to wellness and reach and celebrate small victories every day. Wellness is an area where we know we can win and make a difference in people's lives.

So does this mean Target will no longer be supporting schools/education?
No, we'll continue to support education, but through a wellness lens. As you know, we just reached our milestone of giving $1 billion for education. We made a significant impact in lifting U.S. high school graduation rates and helping kids reach their full potential. I'm really proud of the role Target and our team played in making this happen. Going forward, we recognize the achievement gap persists and we'll design wellness solutions that meet our guests, team and communities where they live, learn, work and play. We'll continue to focus on youth, both in school and out, and leverage current programs like our Meals for Minds in-school food pantry program and Target Field Trips, along with new solutions.

As part of this evolution, you told the team yesterday that Target will be discontinuing the Take Charge of Education program. Can you tell us more about this?
Since we launched Take Charge of Education (TCOE) in 1997, we’ve reached more than 120,000 schools and partnered with our guests to give more than $432 million that teachers and principals used for classroom supplies, activities and programs. We are incredibly proud of the contribution we’ve made with the program, but also recognize that our guests have evolved since we started TCOE and the way they want to engage with our giving has also changed. And, although the collective impact was great, we know that the average school’s payout was around $370. As we look for innovative ways to make to make the biggest impact, we are winding down the TCOE program in May 2016. We are doing everything we can to help our partners through the change—to ease the transition and ensure schools have resources they need start the 2016-17 school year off right, we are giving a school year’s notice and will provide an additional, unrestricted transition grant to all schools that receive a TCOE payout in February 2016.  

How will this change affect Target’s giving?
Giving to communities has been a part of Target's DNA from our inception. Since 1946, Target’s given 5 percent of our profit back to the communities we serve—today, that’s $4 million per week. That commitment is unwavering. Going forward, we do plan to further leverage market-based, philanthropic and CSR solutions to drive societal and business impact. Volunteerism and service also will continue to be an integral part of how we make an impact.

We know wellness is really important to our guests. What does it mean to you and your family?
I think wellness means something unique to each of us. For me and my husband, it means eating well ... we're foodies and love trying new and healthy dishes. I've been wearing my Fitbit, which is great for tracking my progress. I also try to get moving whenever I can. I live near some great walking trails and try to get to the gym, but dancing is my favorite way to stay active. The more fun you have with it, the easier it is! Ultimately, I believe in the notion of progress over perfection—it’s the little things you do every day that can add up to make a big difference. 

What are some of the changes guests and the team will see in the coming months?
We're building our portfolio as we speak, but in 2016, there will be a full range of partnerships and programs dedicated to wellness. From the ongoing innovation we’re seeing with new products (like Made to Matter) and tests with our in-store cafés to team member wellness challenges and new community initiatives—I’m excited about the things we have coming! There's going to be something for everyone, so stay tuned!

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