Big change can take decades, even generations, to realize. For these changes to endure, the hard work that gets us there must be innovative, inclusive and guided by the people and communities closest to the increasingly complex challenges we face.
For more than three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has focused on three core objectives: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers, oceans and the communities they support and advancing our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. Every five years, we take the time to step back and dive deeper into our ongoing listening and learning, to reflect on the lessons learned from the field and how we can better support individuals and organizations who are striving for change in their communities.
The year 2021 marks the beginning of a new five-year cycle. With an enduring commitment to continual improvement, and an abiding belief in Sam and Helen Walton’s ideal that people can accomplish anything when given equal access, opportunity and encouragement, we are given a fresh opportunity to learn from our grantees in the field and multiply our collective impact through bold and collaborative work.
A Shared Vision for the Future
The problems we face today are more complex and interconnected than ever. No one can solve them alone, and it is often the people closest to the challenges who have the best insight into solutions. At the Walton Family Foundation, we continually strive to better understand what works — and where we can improve. We support innovation, new ideas and — above all — community-led change. As we look to the next five years, we have identified and prioritized three unifying objectives across our program areas that will sharpen our efforts and help ensure we practice our core values as we support our grantees' work.
- Champion Community-Driven Change
We are committed to ensuring our work not only reflects but is guided by the voices and needs of the communities where we work. This means committing resources to help grantees effectively and sustainably advance community-developed solutions that deliver lasting progress and drive meaningful change.
- Prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
In the grants we make and the collective work we undertake, we will consistently act on our conviction that when people with different ideas and backgrounds are all at the table, this collective and inclusive effort yields more sustainable and innovative solutions. For this reason, we will strive throughout our work to continually and intentionally:
- Engage and elevate organizations from a diverse range of backgrounds.
- Ensure our approach is clear, fair and consistent for every grantee, and
- Encourage our partners to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations.
- Collaborate with Partners
We are committed to developing innovative approaches and building new partnerships that bring people, resources and ideas together – across government, local communities and the private and philanthropic sectors. We will continually endeavor to be a force multiplier by engaging with and beyond our existing network of allies and experts to facilitate additional partnerships that can further accelerate and expand the impact of our grantees’ work.
Sam and Helen Walton believed people can accomplish anything when they have opportunity and encouragement. From the arts to education and beyond, this bedrock belief shaped their wide-ranging philanthropy in the Northwest Arkansas region they called home. Looking ahead to 2025, the Walton Family Foundation envisions Northwest Arkansas as one of the most vibrant and inclusive communities in the nation. By supporting the vision and work of a diverse array of local grantees, we will put our resources behind community-led efforts that:
- Advance Economic & Cultural Vibrancy
From a diverse and innovative regional economy, where small business and startups can flourish, to world-class cultural opportunities, Northwest Arkansas can continue to build on its strong reputation as a thriving, nationally recognized region. Our work will expand efforts to ensure the region’s abundant opportunities are accessible to all — and solutions rise both from individual communities and collective work across the region.
- Foster Inclusive Growth & A Sense of Belonging
Inclusive growth means everyone who calls Northwest Arkansas home benefits from our region’s successes and is welcome to fully participate in all the area has to offer. We intend to work closely with education nonprofits, school districts and other community partners to ensure that every student in Northwest Arkansas is prepared for college and high-quality jobs and that residents can upskill or reskill to enter high potential fields. Our work with grantees focused on housing and transportation affordability will ensure residents can easily access the region’s employment centers, services and amenities. This work will require partnerships with a broad spectrum of community organizations to drive an intentional and sustained effort that builds meaningful connections across the region’s diverse communities, inspiring a genuine and shared sense of belonging.
- Support Community Leadership & Capacity-Building
Engaging and elevating the voices of a diverse array of local leaders who share a deep commitment to their community can help ensure the long-term vitality and vibrancy of Northwest Arkansas. We will support training, networking and organizations working most closely with the community to help develop a diverse pipeline of next generation leaders.
Unlocking the Delta’s Full Potential
Our founders Sam and Helen Walton were drawn to and saw the vast potential of the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta region over years of visits. Their commitment continues today through the foundation’s support of organizations working to promote economic development, improve education and enhance quality of life. Our work in the Delta over the next year will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of how we can most effectively support community-driven change. We will spend our time learning from community partners and exploring how we can best support their work helping ensure residents have equitable access to resources and opportunities.
Among our areas of exploration:
- Education and youth engagement
- Economic asset building for individuals and families
- Coalition building to maximize impact
Across decades of work alongside education leaders in communities across the country, the Walton Family Foundation has sought to increase access to high-quality K-12 education that puts opportunity and a self-determined life in reach for every child.
While the progress made by grantees and partners to address educational and racial inequities is significant, the challenges that remain are both daunting and humbling. We must confront the sobering fact that, nationally, our K-12 system still tolerates a significant opportunity gap, which exacerbates downward mobility for too many children, rather than propelling them upwards. With an eye toward meaningful breakthroughs in student success, focused on families most in need, we will advance this work over the next five years through three core initiatives.
- Increase Achievement & Opportunity
We believe in the power of individuals and communities to shape their futures, and we recognize that there’s no one right answer to the education challenges communities face. That’s why we plan to do more to foster the ingenuity that lives within communities and to support community-demanded, community-designed and community-driven educational change across the country. Those efforts will likely look very different in different places. Some ideas may challenge existing notions of what school looks like, and where and how learning happens. But they will all share a core conviction that every child belongs, every child matters, and every child should see a future filled with possibility. We are embracing education as the engine of opportunity and a child’s best chance at achieving the American Dream.
- Foster Diverse, Durable Coalitions of the Future
For change to happen, to take root and to be long-lasting, people need to have a say in the aims and the means. Our work is to help support the campaigns, platforms and tools to translate that voice and vision into systemic solutions. Strong, diverse coalitions can advance policies that allow promising, community-demanded educational models to thrive and be sustained. But ultimately, our hopes go beyond the successes of local efforts or models. Our hope is that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, building toward new coalitions that reflect a commitment to meeting communities and families where they are, and where they want to go. Together with our partners, we hope to build coalitions for change that transcend the differences that divide us and lay the foundation for a promising education future for America’s children.
- Accelerate Breakthrough Innovation
Courageous and bold thinking is needed to address critical, long-standing challenges in education, especially in the midst of COVID-19. With more dedicated resources, dramatically increasing our support for innovation over the next five years, we’ll support revolutionary solutions to harness and accelerate opportunity and mobility for all children, with a focus on those most in need. We will fund entrepreneurs and innovators with new ideas and pluralistic solutions that can meet the needs of diverse communities to foster innovation that can advance students’ learning and growth.
Our goal is to make sure there is enough healthy, available water for people and nature to thrive together. Because those who are closest to a challenge are often closest to its solution, we work with farmers, fishermen, ranchers, businesses and conservationists to see North America lead by example in charting an economically and environmentally sustainable path forward for our planet.
We recognize that most people and communities are experiencing climate change through the often extreme prisms of water – in some areas, floods and hurricanes, in others, severe drought. Over the next five years, our vision is to improve water quality and availability through climate-resilient approaches to agriculture, water resource management and sustainable fisheries. Our specific initiatives will:
- Drive Innovation
Working with on-the-ground partners will be critical to developing and driving the widespread use of innovative agricultural water resource and fisheries management practices. We will focus on both nature-based and technological solutions, helping partners develop, test and lay the groundwork for the widespread adoption of new and effective practices.
- Use Markets to Advance Sustainability
We can maximize our impact by supporting community leaders who are using market demand for sustainably produced products to improve agricultural practices and fisheries management. By working with grantees who are promoting sustainable conservation practices and, thus, increasing commitments to sustainable products, we can help raise awareness that sustainable sourcing is good for the environment and for business. We also will support offsets and other mechanisms to engage companies in improving their water stewardship.
- Encourage Smart Policy
Federal, state and local policy can all drive long-term change and solidify progress in protecting water resources. We recognize the importance of policies that lead to better water resource management, more climate- and water-friendly agricultural practices, and improved fisheries management. We will work to elevate the voices of those most affected by water policies — farmers, ranchers, fishers and the communities they are part of — to bring their perspectives and expertise to bear in crafting policy solutions that improve economic and environmental outcomes.
- Engage & Empower Diverse Allies
The Walton Family Foundation will work with a diverse range of stakeholders from within and beyond the environmental field, including communities, other philanthropic organizations and the public. This will include purposeful efforts to expand our engagement with Communities of Color, who disproportionately experience the more severe impacts of climate change, particularly as it relates to water.
In February 2021, the Walton Family Foundation hosted its first-ever virtual conference, Learning & Leading Together: The Next Five Years. Changemakers and thought leaders came together to generate ideas, inspire collaboration and advance solutions for durable, community-driven change. We know that to create greater access to opportunity for people and communities, we must use this pivotal moment to listen, share and build a path forward – together.
The conference offered diverse perspectives and ideas from nonprofit, public and private sector partners, and leaders seeking to find promising solutions for the challenges facing local and national communities.
2020 was a year like no other. Before we can plan for the future, we must understand the present. Raj Chetty, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Jennifer Morris and David Brooks offer perspectives on the state of our nation as it relates to the most important topics of today.
February 18, 2021Northwest Arkansas has earned a deserved reputation as one of the best places to live in the country. But not everyone can benefit from all Northwest Arkansas has to offer. A commitment to ensuring growth, and the opportunities it offers, is inclusive, will help the region through a recovery period and build a vibrant economy.
February 18, 2021How are environmental reporters thinking about this moment, when there is so much at stake but also so much potential? What do they predict will be this year’s biggest headlines? Our panel of reporters answers all of this and more.
Lasting progress and meaningful change require solutions that are community-developed and community-championed. Author Arthur Brooks will offer ideas for how to work together across lines of difference. Conversations with two leaders will discuss how they led community-driven change.
February 18, 2021The next five years will be guided by immense determination and optimism about what’s possible. Speakers will shine a spotlight on the issues and perspectives that will be confronted and elevated - racial equity, economic mobility, innovation, collaboration - over the next five years and beyond.
February 18, 2021Strong coalitions can empower social change across all sectors through shared purpose and resources. Community leaders share their unique experiences working with coalitions that leverage existing assets and public momentum to drive solutions and build cohesive communities.
February 24, 2021We’re in one of the most consequential moments in history but one that also allows us to break from the past and innovate for the future. What does this mean for the conservation movement, and what lessons apply to other challenges?
February 19, 2021The most innovative approaches require new partnerships that bring people, resources and ideas together - across government, communities and the private sector. Panelists share what it will take to build coalitions and networks of collaborators over the next five years.
February 18, 2021Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Groundbreaking research from Echoing Green and Bridgespan Group reveals race remains a defining factor when looking at which organizations get funded and how much they receive.