July 12, 2024

By Arkansas Delta Informer Executive Editor Wesley Brown — As the philanthropic vision of the next generation of Walmart heirs continues to evolve, the Walton Family Foundation’s Delta Strategy 2025 offers new insight into the post-pandemic strategy of the state’s most recognizable charitable foundation.

In early May, the Bentonville-based charity founded by Sam and Helen Walton and now led by the third generation of Walmart heirs launched a new collaborative effort to support the development and prosperity of the Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi.

According to foundation spokeswoman Kathryn Heller, the Walton family-led nonprofit’s new Delta Strategy will focus on three key areas: education and youth engagement, economic asset building for individuals and families and high-impact coalition building. The plan is part of the foundation’s five-year commitment to tackle tough social and environmental problems in the Delta with urgency and a long-term approach to expanding access to opportunity.

In announcing the new initiative on May 9, Walton Family Foundation Chair Annie Proietti said the community-driven plan aims to ensure residents in the Delta region have equitable access to resources and opportunities to achieve their highest ambitions.

“Every community is different, and so are the challenges they face—which is why following local leadership and vision is critical,” said Proietti, a Bentonville native, who has served on the foundation’s K-12 Education, Environment and Home Region program committees. “We recognize that building a vibrant, equitable Delta won’t happen by going it alone. Realizing this vision means joining with partners and supporting one another toward shared goals.”

Under Proietti’s guidance, the foundation first announced its overarching 2025 Strategy for its next five-year grantmaking cycle in February 2021. That plan reflects the foundation’s mission to tackle tough social and environmental problems with urgency and a long-term approach to expand access to opportunity for people and communities, officials said.

Working across its three, longstanding programmatic areas – protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, improving K-12 education, and investing in the foundation’s home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta – the plan places a strong emphasis on supporting innovative and inclusive solutions that support individuals and organizations striving for change in their communities.

“Today’s challenges are more complex and interconnected than ever, and solutions require setting ambitious goals, bringing people with different ideas and backgrounds together, and developing innovative approaches,” said Proietti. “As we work toward lasting change for tomorrow, we are committed to unlocking opportunity today and breaking down barriers that stand in the way.”

Under the broader five-year initiative, the foundation’s “home region” program honors the Walton family’s shared values and commitment to Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta by supporting local efforts to create opportunity and enhance the quality of life in those areas. The plan also envisions the fast-growing Northwest Arkansas, home to Walmart and homegrown Fortune 500 companies Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, as one of the most vibrant and inclusive regions in the nation.

No place like home

Kim Davis, senior advisor for the foundation’s Home Region program, is also leading the work in the Arkansas/Mississippi Delta. Davis said the Bentonville nonprofit already has a longstanding history in Phillips County in south Arkansas and Coahoma County, Miss., and is now bringing those foundation resources to Jefferson County in central Arkansas.

In an interview with the Arkansas Delta Informer, Davis said while the Walton Foundation new Delta-focused strategy involves building coalitions in the local community in order to cultivate the next generation of community leaders and achieve greater equity and opportunity in the area.

“At the foundation, we are committed to continued work in the Delta to support organizations that promote asset building, create new opportunities for children and students, and support the development of future leadership,” said Davis. “Specifically, our work in the Delta includes supporting small businesses and economic opportunity, strengthening schools and education programs, and investing in innovators working to build a better and bright future.”

Among the Walton Foundation’s key educational partners in the Delta is the National Board of Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS), the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), the Friendship Education Foundation, and Teach Plus. Based in Arlington, Va., NBPTS is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization rooted in the belief that the single most important action this country can take to improve schools and student learning is to strengthen teaching.

Founded in 1973 in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, NIHF is dedicated to recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Akron, Ohio-based nonprofit operates Camp Invention, a series of nationwide summer and afterschool hands-on STEM and innovation programs for students from preschool through high school. 

Washington, D.C.-based Friendship Education operates over 15 public charter schools across the U.S. for students in grades pre-K3 to 12. The nonprofit’s Friendship Aspire Academy operates four charter schools in Pine Bluff and two in Little Rock. Teach Plus is a national non-profit organization working to empower teachers with the tools needed to take leadership on education policy and practices so they can better serve their students.

“We recognize that teachers are a critical component in ensuring that students get great outcomes,” Davis said of the partnerships with the national education organizations.

Besides the Walton Foundation’s well-known education and youth engagement programs, the Bentonville nonprofit also recently hired a local native Abe Hudson as the program officer for the Delta region. Based in Clarksdale, Miss., Hudson will spend time facilitating new partnerships across the region.

Prior to joining the foundation, he was a Mississippi state representative and worked with Delta State University as a visiting professor in the College of Business and Aviation. He also served as a program director at the Debt Education for Business Transformation and Sustainability (DEBTS) Program.

In sharing his role with the foundation, Hudson told the Arkansas Delta Informer he hopes to provide “boots on the ground” engagement with the Pine Bluff community to address the region’s inequities. Hudson said he understands that the work that has to be done will take time and must be directed by the community, not the foundation.

“Yes, the Walton Foundation can bring to the table the (financial) resources, investment and partnerships for this strategy, but the most important aspect is getting community involvement from the grassroots level,” said Hudson.

The Walton Family Foundation was created in 1987 and operates separately from Walmart and its charitable work through the Walmart Foundation. The family-led foundation today has more than 120 employees with offices in Bentonville, Denver, Jersey City, N.J., and Washington, D.C.

Besides Proietti, current foundation board directors include Carrie Walton Penner, Lukas Walton and Tom Walton, all third-generation Walton heirs and grandchildren of iconic Walmart founders. In 2020, the foundation awarded $749.5 million in grants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *