Fostering an engaged citizenry: Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: July 17, 2018

Editor’s note: The following is a Power Moves toolkit Power in Practice example.

“The foundation has invested in civic engagement; that’s been really powerful. You’d be amazed how even the low-income community neighborhoods in Little Rock are a lot more empowered than some of the rural places where we’re working. In almost every community, they have never held a candidate forum in their lives.

“Now, in Monticello, we had 150 people show up to the last candidate forum for the mayor’s race, and they’ve become an enshrined part of the community now. In just five or six years, we’ve made that shift. Every mayoral candidate is asking the group for their endorsement, participating in a public forum about it.

“We’ve trained a corps of people to develop their own platform about what they want – before they talk to anybody else. Now they’re thinking, ‘Well, okay, we need to start developing our own people to run for office.’ It’s all part of this development process of building, and I think the foundation has really enabled us to have the patient presence in those communities to build the leaders’ analysis to do that strategy.” – Stakeholder of Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

WRF has thoughtfully embraced a number of successful strategies to make a difference for Arkansans over the last decade, including coalition-building, research, advocacy, convening, mission investing and systems change grantmaking. Embedded in these mutually supporting activities is the through line of community empowerment and agency.

In addition to Monticello and Little Rock is the story of the Gould Citizens Advisory Council. Over several years, with training and coaching from the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the frustrated residents in this small town of 2,500 learned how to overcome apathy, organize their neighbors, demand accountability from local elected officials and develop their own leadership, eventually unseating five incumbents and bringing the town out of bankruptcy.

WRF’s president and CEO Sherece West-Scantlebury and staff approach their relationships with stakeholders by first asking one important question: “How can we help people come together, build consensus and take action?” What is unique and not easily done is to know when to lead, when to work side by side and when to follow, along with when to speak up, when to listen and when to lift up the voices of those most often ignored. WRF is adept at walking this fine line.

Lisa Ranghelli is senior director of assessment and special projects at NCRP and primary author of Power Moves. Follow @NCRP and @lisa_rang on Twitter, and join the conversation using #PowerMovesEquity! Read more case examples here.