If you had asked me five years ago if the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation was an immigration funder, the answer would have likely been no. If you asked me five minutes ago, my answer would have been more nuanced. Our mission as a foundation is to improve the lives of all Arkansans, and we have specific goals for increasing educational attainment and economic opportunity. As a fast growing population in Arkansas, immigrants are an important part of the "all" we are trying to serve. So yes, we fund immigrant-serving organizations...but are we an immigration funder?
As we started investing in immigrant communities, we didn’t feel like an immigration funder. It was a bit of a new land. We knew we wanted to be there, but we suddenly realized that we didn’t have the language or the map we needed to get where we were trying to go. Knowing we had a lot to learn, we used a few strategies:
Get the Data
We needed to know, “Who is the immigrant community in Arkansas?” To figure this out, we commissioned A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas that included the demographics of immigrants in the state and immigrants' economic impact on the state. This report helped us better understand where immigrants were within the state and what some of their key needs were. Think of it as our travel guide to immigration funding. It gave us a tool to begin conversations within the Foundation about how to invest in immigrant communities as well as a tool to ask others–foundations, corporate partners and banks, and policymakers–to join us in supporting immigrant communities.
VIEW THE INFOGRAPHIC
Find a Network
When you don’t know much, finding others who know more is a great place to start. We began with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR). GCIR had resources to read and watch, fantastic staff, and–most importantly–connections to other grantmakers who were struggling with similar challenges. Through their Delivering on the Dream initiative, WRF came together with grantmakers in other regions to learn how to leverage Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to advance educational and economic opportunity for immigrant families.
Bring Everyone with You
As Foundation staff learned, it was important for the Board to learn with us. For many foundation boards, addressing immigrant issues can be perceived as controversial or risky. Our board used the data in A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas and they joined staff on site visits to meet leaders of immigrant-serving organizations as well as students and families. The Foundation's staff and Board learned together why and how WRF could invest in immigrant communities.
Learn as You Go
So, we’re starting to sound like an immigration funder, right? There is a reason why it's hard to say. The language around immigration is difficult–lots of acronyms like DACA, DAPA, H2b Visa, and more. And lots of things are constantly changing. We had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and realize that we would have to engage in continuous learning.
So where are we now? We are home in Arkansas, proud immigration funders...immigration funders who still have a lot to learn and a lot to do.