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Carrying Forward the Legacy of the Walton Family Foundation

March 10, 2016
Approaching our vision with urgency and patience
Carrie Walton Penner visits with a kindergarten class at Synergy Charter Academy in Los Angeles.

When my grandparents, Sam and Helen Walton, set the course for our family’s philanthropic vision in the late 1980s, they set out to make lasting change by empowering individuals. My grandfather often said there is no limit to what can be accomplished when people are given opportunity and incentive, and my grandmother reinforced that giving back was the most important undertaking our family could do together.

Nearly three decades later, this combined legacy brings their children and grandchildren together to create opportunity in the areas of K-12 education, ocean and river conservation and in the Arkansas communities that first gave my grandparents opportunity.

In each of these areas, the foundation has embarked on a five-year strategic plan that will result in grants of more than $2 billion through 2020. This “2020 Vision” is reflected in a recent profile of the foundation in the March issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Our vision goes far beyond 2020, as the foundation continues to focus on long-term goals including:

  • Dramatically expanding educational opportunity for all children, especially those in low-income communities;
  • Restoring the health of oceans and preserving the quality and availability of fresh water; and
  • Enhancing the quality of life for people living in Northwest Arkansas and in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region.

Looking ahead, we’ve challenged our grantees and partners to continually improve how best to move the needle. We’ve also challenged ourselves to find the best way, as a family, to support the work of the foundation toward these big goals. With this in mind, we’ve set a new streamlined approach to governance that will continue to engage several generations of family members.

Steuart Walton on the Razorback Regional Greenway.

Five individuals will serve as the foundation’s board of directors. They are my aunt Alice, my brother Ben, my father Rob, my cousin Steuart and myself. Other family members will serve on committees and have the opportunity to be on the foundation board in the future.

After nearly 30 years of family philanthropy, there are many lessons that apply to the future of the foundation. One of the most profound is the need to act with both urgency and patience. We need urgency to create immediate individual opportunity – for the kindergartner who needs and deserves a good school now, or for the fisherman whose livelihood depends on a healthy fish population today – and the patience to stay involved over decades to ensure broad opportunity for generations to come.

Rob Walton on a site visit with longtime grantee, Conservation International

It’s a vision that began with my grandparents and one their descendants have the privilege and responsibility to build upon and carry forward.

This post originally appeared on the Council on Foundations Re: Philanthropy Blog.

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