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Rooted in Opportunity Marigold students in classroom

Our Commitment to Learning and Opportunity

December 9, 2020
Caryl M. Stern
We understand the resolve required to build lasting solutions, and the need to help people today

Big social and environmental change takes time. Sometimes decades. Even generations.

At the Walton Family Foundation, we understand the patience and resolve required to build lasting solutions, ones that create access to opportunity for people and communities over the long term. But we also recognize the need to make a difference today.

Every day matters. To the parent of a kindergartener struggling in school. To a community along a coast disappearing into the ocean by the minute. To an entrepreneur risking everything to chase a dream.

That is why the foundation tackles these challenges by planning our work in five-year cycles – so we can approach change with what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the fierce urgency of now," while also learning and adapting solutions for the future.

Real change takes time, and we are committed to this work for the long term.

Over the last five years, the foundation invested approximately $2 billion to improve the lives of people and communities through K-12 education, ocean and river conservation and building the quality of life in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Delta.

With our grantees and partners – who poured their expertise, passion and sweat into this work – we marked major milestones together.

More than 350,000 children are in better schools, with millions more benefiting from citywide improvements in education in communities like Denver, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. At the same time, thousands of principals and education leaders received training so they can best meet students’ needs.

Two students smiling TLC Innovative Schools

In the western U.S., a landmark bi-national water-sharing agreement now helps to ensure the Colorado River can provide water to 40 million people. Along the Gulf Coast, a coalition of local and national environmental and business groups secured the largest-funded restoration effort ever, which will better protect the homes and businesses of 2.3 million residents.

Today, 18 million more trees are growing in the Mississippi River Basin – and 50,000 farmers are better caring for the river and their crops. Meanwhile, a hungry planet benefits from more retailers demanding sustainably caught seafood and more fishers adopting sustainable practices, including 800,000 fishers in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Indonesia.

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In our home region, more than 200 miles of new trails in Northwest Arkansas now serve residents and visitors alike and in a more pristine environment that now includes an additional 3,100 acres of preserved green space and 37,000 feet of restored riverbank. Fifteen Design Excellence Program projects beautify the region's urban landscape, 10 nationally ranked K-12 schools provide high-quality education to students and vibrant cultural amenities attract more than 1 million visitors annually.

Kim Seay. NICA Coach. Mountain Biking

In the Delta, educational and economic opportunity led to success stories like a 100% college acceptance rate for the 2018 class of Helena-West Helena High School, the first time in the school’s history.

These milestones are only possible because of the tireless commitment from leaders and innovators in the communities where we work.

Every day for the past five years, we have learned from them.

We learned:

  • Bold change that is community-developed, community-led and community-supported can set students on a path to opportunity, prosperity and success. A K-12 education system should prepare young people for college and careers. We will look to families, educators and communities for ideas, inspiration and innovation.
  • The pace of environmental progress has not kept up with a rapidly changing environment. Going forward, the foundation will foster collaboration across the public, private and philanthropic sectors and bring all voices to the table when decisions are made about the environment. 
  • Not everyone in Northwest Arkansas has benefited equally from the region's development, so we will work harder to ensure progress does not leave anyone behind.

These lessons from the last five years shape our path for the next five. Across all programs, we will:

  • Recognize the strength of our partners and work together to build each other's capacity;
  • Champion community-led solutions to create durable, lasting change;
  • Build on our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion with even more intention to have greater impact;
  • Seek more collaboration with other philanthropies and other sectors leveraging each other's strengths and multiplying results; and
  • Embrace innovation with a desire to be nimble, open to new ideas and be willing to take risks.

Real change takes time, and we are committed to this work for the long term.

As the foundation closes one five-year chapter and begins the next, we recognize those at the forefront of change – our grantees and partners. We celebrate their achievements and heed lessons learned. We are more optimistic than ever that, together, we can improve lives today as we work toward change for tomorrow.

Because every day matters.