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Winrock's vision for Arkansas: Winrock International's focus shifts to a "third world" community named Arkansas.

Winrock's Vision For Arkansas

Winrock International is a five-year-old nonprofit institution, with an annual budget of around $30 million, that has dedicated itself to helping poor people in rural areas around the world.

It assists with reforestation in the Sudan. It teaches farmers in Thailand how to raise better sheep and goats. It installs small-scale irrigation systems on farms in Honduras.

Now, Winrock would like to get more involved in another underdeveloped part of the world - namely, Arkansas. But it's run into problems, not the least of which is that few people here have ever heard of it, much less know anything about it.

People who know nothing about an organization, even one named for a former governor, are not likely to give it much money, and money is what Winrock needs if it's going to make its presence felt in Arkansas.

Working Capital

Making a difference takes money, and despite its Rockefeller heritage Winrock International doesn't have a bottomless purse. Winrock began with an endowment of $30 million; it's now up to $50 million, from which the institute receives about $3 million a year in operating funds. The rest of its $30 million annual budget comes from grants, contributions, and the contract work it does for governments, foundations, and other organizations.

In some cases, Winrock and a local agricultural organization come up with a development plan and search for a funding source. In other cases, an organization will first acquire funding from a foundation for a program, and then seek bids to carry it out.

Fee Busby, who heads Winrock's U.S. programs, says the competition for grant money, and the constant need for the institute to demonstrate its competence and efficiency, "is damn tough, but I think it makes Winrock better."

Noble Goals

The conflict between noble goals and worldly realities shows up in a beautifully produced booklet that Winrock gives to potential contributors. It's language is an interesting amalgam of board room and sociology class, stating right up front that "hunger packs a powerful economic, environmental, and political punch."

You might think that Winrock, with experience in such exotic, and sometimes volatile, places as Peru and Kampuchea would find working in it's home state of Arkansas easy. There are several reasons why that's not the case, and the first one is money.

"It's a curious anomaly," says Robert Havener, head of the institute, "that it's far, far easier for us to raise money for Bangladesh than it is for the Mississippi Delta." On its foreign projects, Winrock leverages its own money at about a 1-to-9 ratio; that is, one Winrock dollar combines with nine outside dollars to buy ten dollars' worth of development project. So far in Arkansas, the ratio has been more like 1-to-1.

Foreign projects can attract funding from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and sources in other countries; domestic sources are much more limited, and Arkansas itself, is, after all, the second-poorest state in the country.

Defining Goals

Winrock's in-state work may also be complicated by the fact that its Arkansas goals remain generally vague. Staffers say that it's easier to identify development needs in Third World countries than in the United States. "One way or the other, you get approached" about projects in developing countries, says Hugh Murphy, VP of the institute.

"In Arkansas in lots of ways we are taking our first steps," Fee Busby says, "We're trying to understand the strengths that Winrock has, and the needs the state has, and we should be able to contribute to everybody's success."

Although poverty, economic anemia and underdevelopment are all too common in parts of Arkansas, Robert Havener says that Winrock's experiences in the Third World are not always directly translatable here.

Third World countries are labor-rich and knowledge-poor, he says, while in Arkansas the situation is reversed. (While wages are low here, they are astronomical compared with most developing countries; Arkansas does not have unlimited numbers of people willing to work for literally pennies a day.) "Nevertheless," Havener says, "there are lessons to be learned."

To get Winrock's local programs moving, Havener last year created a 34-member Arkansas Advisory Council made up of prominent people from across the state. Council members include bankers Bill Bowen of Little Rock, Louis Ramsay of Pine Bluff, and Marlin Jackson of Conway; newspaperwoman and state representative Charlotte Schexnayder of Dumas; state Senator Jack Gibson of Dermott; Little Rock lawyer Robert Shults; and Preston LaFerney of the University of Arkansas's School of Agriculture at Fayetteville.

The board chairman is Carl Whillock, president of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives and former president of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro. The council's first job was to raise money for expansion of the Winrock conference center, which is used for meetings by outside groups as well as for Winrock's own development seminars.

Planned Projects

One of Winrock's upcoming programs in Arkansas may be a series of small grants aimed at helping farmers find new ways to solve local problems.

"There are places where five hundred or a thousand dollars can make a difference," Hugh Murphy says. "We've seen it happen in Third World countries, and we believe it can happen here. We intend to show that it can happen here." More details on Winrock's Arkansas efforts have been promised for the Advisory Council's next meeting in October.

One reason for the vagueness of Winrock's Arkansas plans is the institute's unwilling to be seen as passing down wisdom from on high. Fee Busby says Winrock's role is "not to make decisions, but to identify problems and let someone else deal with them. We think that's a very healthy role that someone like Winrock International can play." Forestry specialist Doug Henderson echoes that idea: "Today, we have the role of bridging between institutions, helping institutions decide for themselves what they can and should do."

The danger with this kind of attitude, of course, is that it may lead to the well-meaning, overly academic do-nothingness of the "task forces" and "study groups" and "blue-ribbon commissions" that politicians are always appointing to look into problems and that seem to slowly dissolve, leaving behind only slick four-color brochures expressing deep concern over something or other.

Doug Henderson has been working on getting the various factions in the dispute over Arkansas forestry practices together, and he drifts dangerously near the shoals of bureaucratese when he talks about "a stepping-stone of discussion, convening the environmental-type constituency with other forest-products constituencies in some kind of a forum to talk about concerns....There's a great need for more constructive dialogue about forest issues." On the other hand, he immediately dismisses the idea that Winrock is merely a facilitating machine, interested only in providing raw data for others to process.

"We do have opinions," he says. "We are not an advocacy organization, but we do believe that we have a right, and more than that an obligation, to think...We believe that the strategic application of intelligence can produce benefits, but not in an ad hoc way."

Sustainable Growth

"Not in an ad hoc way" - that's another reason for the amorphous nature of Winrock's ideas about agricultural development in Arkansas. Its staff is experienced enough to realize the interdependence of so many of the issues it deals with today - to understand that simple answers and quick fixes will only put off the day of reckoning. Take its mission statement: to reduce poverty and hunger through sustainable agricultural and rural development. "Sustainable" means that it will do no good to level a forest in a poor country for a crop that will feed a few more people if increased erosion immediately washes away topsoil. It will do no long-term good for eastern Arkansas to increase production of row crops for export when other countries are eroding a glutted market. People often must be persuaded that progress involves looking past tomorrow. Cliche or not, sustainable development probably will come only from constructive dialogue, in one form or another.

Fee Busby says he joined Winrock because he thought "it was one of the few international development organizations that believed the United States was part of the world." True development, he says, can't consider technology, research, and education separately.

"Development bridges those three. My job is to take that philosophy and figure out if there's something we can do here in Arkansas or in the United States to help people make their lives better." Winrock inevitably will be directed by the social activism of its staff.

Busby believes Winrock's role is to identify problems, but he adds, "Because we're a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization, we can look at development in a more equitable manner. We think the benefits of development should be more widely shared by the bottom members of society."

Carving A Niche

Winrock International means to have an influence on the problems of its home state, if its staff can convince enough people to trust them with their money, and if it can define a place for itself in Arkansas.

"If we're going to make any impact here, we have to find the niche where we can make a difference," Hugh Murphy says. "We could live on international business if we wanted to, but I don't think any of us would be in the business if that's the way we thought."

Winrock

International

Winrock International was formed in 1985 from the merger of three existing organizations, all of which worked to improve agricultural practices in developing countries, and all of which had roots in the Rockefeller family.

The Agricultural Development Council, created by John D. Rockefeller III in the 1950's, provided training in agricultural development for hundreds of Asian scholars; former ADC students today occupy important government positions in several Asian countries.

The Interantional Agricultural Development Service, formed in 1975 using money from the Rockefeller Foundation, worked to improve agricultural research in Third World countries, focusing on basic grains such as wheat, rice, and corn.

An Arkansas connection was provided by the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center at Petit Jean. The center grew out of a request by the late Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller, who had a long interest in cattle ranching that trustees use his estate in a "venturesome and innovative," as well as beneficial, way.

Combined Strenth

In the early 1980's, the Rockefeller family decided that combining these three organizations would create a body stronger than the sum of its parts. To lead this new institute, they turned to Robert Havener, a Harvard-educated administrator with a distinguished record in agriculture-related fields.

At the time, he was head of a research center in Mexico that included among its staff the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Norman Borlaug, the main force behind the "Green Revolution" in Third World agriculture.

On July 1, 1985, after what Havener now calls "protracted negotiation," the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development was established.

Among the items that had to be worked out: a reduction of three boards of directors to one; a merger of staffs; and, of course, the site of the new headquarters. ADC was located in Washington, D.C., IADS in New York. The Winrock Center's home was on 225 acres at Petit Jean, on land donated by Winrock Farms, the ranching operation founded by Winthrop Rockefeller and run by his son, Win Paul.

Conway County is a long way from the money and power centers of New York and Washington, but the "old" Winrock's staff believed strongly that the "new" Winrock should maintain its existing programs in the United States, and that the new institute ought to be located in an area near its agricultural roots. That vision triumphed, and Winrock International came to Arkansas.

Remodeled Cattle Barns

Winrock's bright, attractive offices are housed in two remodeled cattle barns that once were part of Winrock Farms. There, a staff of 125 administers programs that involve more than fifty countries, and 100 or so additional employees, around the world.

When I visited Winrock in mid-June, Dick Harwood, director of Winrock's Development Studies Center, had just returned from the Philippines. Robert Havener was leaving the next day for an extended trip to several African countries, and a group of Pakistani graduate students was having lunch in a large conference room that once was a show barn for Winrock's Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Winrock's mission is simply stated, but it reaches to the heart of the human condition: the institute's goal is "to reduce poverty and hunger through sustainable agricultural and rural development." It does this, Havener says, in four main ways: by training local agricultural experts, strengthening educational institutions, sharing technological advances, and promoting positive development policies.

The social commitment at Winrock matches the institute's ideals. Winrock pays competitive salaries, Havener says, but top staff members could make more elsewhere. "Most everybody who works here works here because they believe in it," he says. Vice president Hugh Murphy has an MBA, but he says the world of mergers and acquisitions "has never interested me." Another staff member, Sarah Warren, was working for the Solomon Brothers investment firm when she decided to resign and go to graduate school - in forestry.

Doug Henderson, who works on timberland issues in Arkansas, puts it this way: "The people here are highly dedicated, in an almost missionary way, to helping society deal with issues of development. They come to work every day and ask, `What can I do to make the world a better place.' They're driven by social consciousness to make a difference in the world."

PHOTO : GOOD WORKS: Robert Havener (left), president of Winrock International, talks with Dr. Kazi Badruddoza of Bangladesh.

PHOTO : GOOD WORKS: The Winrock International team hopes to aid poor Arkansans in the same way they combat poverty worldwide.

Mel White is a former editor of the Arkansas Times and a freelance writer living in Little Rock.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:White, Mel
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 2, 1990
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