It’s not every day that you get the chance to rub elbows with dozens of bona-fide community leaders, but recently more than 130 came together at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to identify how we can collectively improve education and career opportunities for every Arkansan. If you’ve never visited the Institute, you should, it’s an inspiring place!
Working alongside community leaders — many were also identified as being one of the 40 leaders recognized in honor of WRF's fortieth anniversary — we were motivated by each other to create concrete plans for what we can do to ensure every Arkansas resident has the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and the workforce. WRF's president and CEO, Sherece West-Scantlebury, reminded us that the Foundation has four bold goals, three initiatives we were there to focus on, we're now working on Moving the Needle 2.0, and the Foundation has one goal: To improve the lives of all Arkansans (click here to view and share the Countdown to Impact infographic). Perhaps Governor Winthrop Rockefeller said it best decades ago:
We worked in small groups sharing our accomplishments, our struggles, and we explored how we can combine our strengths to have a greater impact. While we learned about the phenomenal work each of us is doing, we found opportunities to collaborate with passionate leaders pursuing common goals across the state and even within our neighborhoods.
During lunch, we had a more in-depth discussion about questions we had regarding what we’d learned from networks and organizations we had met. By spending the first half of the day focused on the knowledge, resources, and networks present, we were in a better position to think critically about what we could accomplish and how. At the end of lunch, we shifted our focus from who we are and what we have to what we must do to improve education and career opportunities in our state.
After returning to our small groups, we looked at what we could do wrong to figure out how to do it right. For many of us, it was a challenge to think so differently about our work, trying to identify what our organizations consistently do that's ineffective as well as areas where we can make a difference and we simply ignore. What also made this session so helpful was that we kept it light-hearted, and folks suggested some pretty preposterous ideas. It was also helpful to create pictures that first reflected what we don't want to have happen to our state, and then we visualized what we must do to end unproductive behaviors and address gaps we're currently neglecting.
At the end of the day, we came back together to reflect on who we met, what we learned, what actions we are compelled to take, and who we will work with to ensure that:
Every Arkansas student graduates prepared for college and the workplace
All Arkansans have access to a career that provides a family-supporting wage
We concluded that WRF, our grantees, and our partners all share the same mission: To improve the lives of all Arkansans. To accomplish that goal, we're going to have to plan together strategically, act on our plan tirelessly, reflect on our progress, and continuously celebrate our accomplishments. While that seems like a lot of time and effort — and it is — it will be worth it when we're able to look back at where we've been and see how much better off our state's children and families are.