Here are 16 foundation highlights from 2016 that underscore our strong commitment to the causes we champion, celebrate successes we’ve helped achieve and show our vision for ensuring lasting social impact in the future.
Ocean and River Conservation
1. Together with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we announced a $1 billion collective commitment to support ocean conservation and sustainable fisheries in Indonesia and the Americas — United States, Mexico, Chile and Peru — and restoration of coastal Gulf of Mexico.
2. The federal government and five Gulf states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), finalized updates to a comprehensive plan that will guide several billion dollars to restore the Gulf’s ecosystem hurt by the oil spill six years ago. The plan provides a framework for making Gulf restoration a reality, as the dollars associated with oil spill settlement begin to flow to the Coast and revitalize the environment and economy.
3. A coalition of leading agricultural and food companies, major retailers and environmental groups joined forces in August to raise $4 million to fund better conservation practices on farms in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative will support projects aimed at improving soil health and water quality while also ensuring a thriving agricultural industry.
4. Our board member Rob Walton and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, celebrated a rebound in the U.S. fisheries industry after decades of decline caused by overfishing. Catch limits and improved monitoring have boosted species such as red snapper, creating a model for sustainable fishing practices that could spur the recovery of fish populations around the world.
5. The foundation made an unprecedented commitment in 2016 to give $1 billion over five years to continue expanding educational opportunity.
6. One of the biggest challenges facing public charters school is a lack of funding for facilities. The foundation announced its $250 million Building Equity Initiative, which will provide capital to create and expand charter schools – and help at least 250,000 additional students enroll by 2027.
7. 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of the nation’s first charter school law, in Minnesota. The foundation was one of the first philanthropies to support the expansion of public charter schools, which today serve close to 3 million students.
8. Investments in high-quality schools — regardless of their governance — are leading to creative new models for better education. In Indianapolis, Innovation Network Schools combine the freedom and autonomy of charter schools with the resources and facilities of a traditional school district.
Our Home Region
9. Northwest Arkansas cemented its reputation as a world-class mountain-biking destination by hosting the International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit. The event attracted more than 500 cycling enthusiasts from across the globe to ride some of the region’s 250-plus miles of paved and soft-surface trails.
10. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. celebrated its fifth birthday in November. The foundation-funded cultural institution has welcomed more than 2.7 million visitors and become renowned for its architecture and collection of 19th and 20th-century art.
11. Building on the success of Crystal Bridges, the museum announced plans to transform a shuttered Kraft cheese plant into a new 63,000-square-foot contemporary art exhibition space. The foundation-supported facility, in downtown Bentonville, will include a visual art exhibition space, performance venues for music, film and theater, and house an artists-in-residence program.
12. A $1 million rail renovation project is helping Helena, Ark. buck the odds in the Mississippi River Delta, a region struggling to find its economic footing. The foundation and its partners invested in restoration of the city’s short-line railroad, which provided local manufacturers stability and an opportunity to grow.
13. The foundation completed and is now implementing five-year strategies in each program area that will guide more than $2 billion in giving through 2020. Our vision and aspiration goes far beyond the next five years, and our leadership remains committed to a long-term focus on big goals including dramatically expanding educational opportunity, restoring ocean and river health and enhancing quality of life in our home region.
14. Walton family members approved a governance restructure that includes a five-member board of directors.
15. The foundation has a new executive director – the third person to hold this position and the first to come from outside a family entity.
16. Over the past four years, our staff has doubled in size to nearly 100 talented individuals with expertise and experience ranging from negotiating international agreements related to the Colorado River to leading cross-cultural performing arts organizations to teaching students and leading schools. While our roots remain in our Bentonville home, our impact is global. Our operations continue to expand with offices in Denver, Jersey City and Washington, D.C.