Q&A with Regan Moffitt
The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation adopted the Moving the Needle goals nearly a decade ago. The goals grow out of the vision of our founder, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, who said “there was no place for poverty in Arkansas.”
As we approach the end of our 10-year strategic plan, we understand that we must take a comprehensive and connected approach. Our goals do not stand alone, and likewise, the strategies we use to achieve those goals do not stand alone. For example, our investments to improve access to quality early childhood education and strengthen the K-12 education system are important for increasing educational attainment and for increasing prosperity. Strong educational institutions provide a safe and stable environment for children so that their parents can work. They also prepare our children to go on to post-secondary education and good jobs with family-supporting wages.
Over the course of the last 10 years, we have developed three key initiatives:
- Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading – To ensure all Arkansas students read proficiently by the end of third grade
- ForwARd Arkansas – To ensure all Arkansas students graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace
- Expect More – To ensure Arkansans have the education and skills to support vibrant businesses and earn family-supporting wages
Each of these distinct initiatives is reliant on the others to reach the common vision a more prosperous state where all can thrive.
Stated simply, we do not believe we can achieve our goals for Arkansas without addressing equity. WRF’s mission is to improve the lives of all Arkansans. WRF’s commitment to racial equity starts with our founder. Governor Rockefeller prioritized racial equity during his lifetime and left us with that charge at the Foundation.
Over the last decade of implementing our Moving the Needle strategic plan, WRF has advanced racial equity by:
- Cultivating and supporting activists to ensure all Arkansans have the opportunity to learn in school, obtain the skills required to succeed in jobs that pay family-supporting wages, and build stronger communities
- Investing in research to advocate for systems change and policies that work for every Arkansan
- Leveraging resources from state and national governments and foundations to build more just, equitable communities statewide
One specific example of WRF’s racial equity work is ForwARd Arkansas. ForwARd is a partnership of the Arkansas State Board of Education, Walton Family Foundation, and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation that is committed to helping every Arkansas student graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace. To realize this vision, the ForwARd steering committee gathered feedback from thousands of Arkansans to develop recommendations aimed at dramatically improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap in Arkansas.
At the Foundation, we understand that good public policy is required to achieve our vision. Creating change at scale requires more than successful programs; it requires systems change. Since WRF’s founding, we have impacted public policy through relationships and partnerships, influenced policymakers with accurate data for fact-driven decision making, and leveraged the capacity of advocacy organizations and communities.
Immigration integration provides a good example of how WRF has used public policy. In 2012, WRF commissioned a report, A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas, that provides accurate demographic information about immigrants in the state and describes the economic impact that immigrants are having on the state. This report has been used by policymakers as a trusted resource. WRF has used the data to testify on proposed legislation to create a state DREAM act to provide instate tuition for undocumented immigrant students.
WRF believes in the importance of directly engaging those most impacted in the systems change conversation. That is why we invested in the creation and growth of Arkansas United Community Coalition, a nonprofit that is organizing immigrant communities across the state. AUCC has helped young immigrants, as well as adults, to advocate for their communities at the state and federal level.
Together, these public policy investments have contributed to Arkansas remaining one of the only Southern states that did not pass legislation that harms immigrant communities.
Families experience instability in a variety of ways, including income loss and fluctuations, loss of a family member, unemployment, irregular work schedules, food insecurity, homelessness, health and mental health challenges, violence, and fear of discrimination. Many foundations are working to prevent instability or buffer families and children from its effects without naming their work in this way. How does WRF’s work tie into this concept?
While “stability” is not a name we use in our work, we embrace the concept. WRF invests in stronger communities that can wrap families with the support they need to be successful. We ask our nonprofit partners to consider how they can support families and communities holistically. For example, we have been providing funding for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in Arkansas for a number of years. The sites are effectively helping more Arkansans access the Earned Income Tax Credit. There are opportunities to consider how this one-time boost in income can produce longer-term stability through savings, housing, transportation or other services. WRF has helped these grantees develop networks and learn from models about how to allow them to provide stability to families and move them out of poverty.
In terms of improving the lives of children and families, the field and funders struggle to understand challenges and act using a compressive (non-siloed) lens. Conversations at the Roundtable are designed to help funders work across issue siloes. Why do you think this is important? How might this approach affect the philanthropic field?
As the recent Southeastern Council of Foundations report, Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear, aptly describes, philanthropy has the opportunity and the obligation to “accelerat[e] progress toward shared well-being.” This can’t be can’t be done with an issue-by-issue approach. So the question for for me isn’t why getting out of silos is important. The question is when will we do it.
Challenges aren’t in silos, so solutions shouldn’t be either. It is easy and comfortable to connect with and collaborate with those who share our issue expertise and language. It is when we get uncomfortable, working at the intersections of issues, that real change happens. As funders, we won’t get to where we need to be unless we get comfortable with being uncomfortable.