Two Things Are True In Arkansas: Pain and Promise in Policy Making

Reflect | Analyze | Plan
To live in Arkansas is to know full-well that two things can be true at once. Arkansas is a place of paradox. Abundantly rich land and asset-limited people. Rural communities that are close-knit and isolated. Hospitality and hate. Arkansas is neither the Old South nor the frontier. It is what happens when both exist together.

Winthrop Rockefeller Looking out over the land in Arkansas
Governor Winthrop Rockefeller atop Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas

Embracing the Paradox

To understand Arkansas politics is to acknowledge and interpret these paradoxes. The past legislative session is rife with examples. On the one hand, Arkansas lawmakers expanded the state’s economy by making it more inclusive to immigrants. On the other hand, they curbed economic growth by failing to pass meaningful tax relief for hard working Arkansans and denying rights to the state’s LGBTQIA community.

Two Sides of Arkansas’s 2021 Legislative Session

Arkansas Legislative Session Paradox

The pain and promise of this moment in Arkansas

To our philanthropic peers, you may look at Arkansas and feel all hope is lost, but that is just one side of a complex story. At this moment in Arkansas, there exists deep pain and discouragement. There also exists immense promise and precedence for change. Both sides of the story are true. Because of the latter, we remain steadfast in our relentless pursuit of equity in Arkansas.

If, like us, you want to see equity in Arkansas, now is exactly the time to run in, not out.

Three ways to run in, not out

In this moment, we know this much is true. Together, we must:

1. Invest now.

Timing is everything, and the time to invest in building the infrastructure for change is now.  We have made the mistake of investing too late in the past.

Investments this calendar year can support the planning, capacity, organizing, and advocacy necessary to drive long-term systemic change.

2. Invest in the right organizations.

Front line organizations are already driving change in Arkansas. At WRF, we are pushing ourselves to find ways to support these organizations.  In 2020, we invested in new coalitions, innovation, and some long-standing organizations for the first time. For example:

  • DecARcerate
  • WRF provided multi-year general operating support to DecARcerate to amplify the voices of those directly impacted by the inequitable structure of Arkansas’s criminal justice system.

  • Arkansas Black/Brown Power Coalition
  • WRF invested in a coordinating intermediary to build the capacity of the Arkansas Black/Brown Power Coalition (a coalition of organizations and individuals focused on power building in Black and Brown communities) to work collectively and strategically to bring about systemic policy change and advance social, ethnic, and racial equity in Arkansas.

  • Connective Care & Action Network
  • WRF partnered with three other foundations to invest in a cohort of six nonprofits to provide direct assistance to ALICE families and workers during the eviction crisis and build long-term capacity to advocate for more equitable tenant rights in Arkansas.

  • Movement Innovation Grants Initiative
  • WRF launched our Movement Innovation Grants Initiative to stimulate and support innovative advocacy in Arkansas that strengthens the voice and power of Arkansans in historically overlooked communities.

  • Early Childhood Education Coalition
  • WRF invested in a coalition of more than 40 organizations committed to building the power and voice of early childhood educators, parents, and others most impacted by inequities in Arkansas’s early childhood education system to advance transformative, systemic change.

    We invite you to join us in supporting these organizations, coalitions, and initiatives and in continuing to connect with and find ways to invest in many others.

3. Invest in the right ways.

 There is an abundance of guidance to foundations looking to better support systemic change.  Below are just a few for us to consider.  As philanthropic partners, let’s push ourselves to collaborate, co-fund, streamline, and continuously evolve to better support our partners and advance our missions. 

  • Invest in what counts: “If we haven’t figured out how to track it ourselves, we cannot expect organizations with less capacity and fewer resources than us to provide it.” - Chris Cardona, WRF Board member and Ford Foundation Program Officer, in his co-authored blog on the evolutions of the Ford Foundation’s diversity data collection.
  • Invest with flexibility: “If funders actually want to help organizations strengthen their infrastructure, it’s simple: stop providing restricted capacity building grants and just give Multi-Year General Operating Dollars..” - Vu Le in this blog on providing multi-year general operating support. He also offers suggestions on streamlining grant applications and abandoning other archaic and harmful funding practices
  • Invest with courage: “We must address critical issues facing philanthropy in the South and its communities. We must take risks and make bold leaps.” - Janine Lee, President and CEO of the Southeastern Council of Foundations in her blog about SECF’s commitment to courageous leadership

Join us as we commit to invest now, invest in the right organizations, and invest in the right ways.

Learn with us, connect with us, and join us in our relentless pursuit of equity in Arkansas.