A Look at Community Leadership/Collective Impact in Northwest Arkansas

Two years ago, Endeavor Foundation’s board of directors challenged staff to think beyond providing fund services and facilitated grantmaking by expanding our mission. Through a strategic planning process, we determined Endeavor should be a long-term advocate for Northwest Arkansas. Many refer to that as “community leadership.” Many in our region of 500,000 believe we’ve already had plenty of good leadership to build on, and we agree.

We’ve been blessed with great leaders like Sam Walton (Walmart), Don Tyson (Tyson Foods), and J. B. Hunt (J.B. Hunt Transport) who once set really bold goals and achieved them. They set us on a path to make Northwest Arkansas an even better place to live and do business. Their paths also inspired Endeavor to pursue new leadership opportunities for our region.

In January 2011, the Northwest Arkansas Council, the region’s economic development council, unveiled the Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy—a blueprint for growing jobs and creating economic opportunities for the region into the next decade. The Council’s Steering Committee of nearly 30 regional business and civic leaders helped develop the strategy for taking Northwest Arkansas to the next level. Endeavor’s CEO, Anita Scism, had the privilege of serving on the steering committee with 30 incredible individuals from our region.

Endeavor was proud to step out and up to community leadership in this way. However, this was just our first step towards assuming a more active leadership role in our community.

Endeavor Foundation was selected to lead community vitality, one of the four components of the Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy plan. As the area continues to grow and change, so must its support services, amenities, and cultural infrastructure. We must respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse community. We must place an emphasis on maintaining an environment that is attractive to young families and enticing to single, young professionals. While we are fortunate to possess a strong quality of life and comparatively low cost of living, proactive community development is necessary to sure that livability is enhanced rather than burdened by future growth.

The Community Vitality Workgroup’s goal is to ensure that Northwest Arkansas remains a vibrant and attractive community for businesses, residents, families, and retirees for decades to come. In chairing the community vitality component, Endeavor is leading through partnership. We recruited 14 members to the Community Vitality Workgroup and various task forces which consist of leaders from social services, higher education, foundations, community groups, and businesses and corporations. Endeavor’s ongoing role is to facilitate community conversations among these leaders to successfully achieve the following objectives:

  • Enhance the quality of the region’s infrastructure and the region’s downtown and population centers.
  • Support the work of community and social services providers to improve the social and economic well-being of the region’s varied populations.
  • Promote racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity in Northwest Arkansas and support quality of life enhancements by developing amenities that appeal to a variety of demographic groups.
  • Develop the next generation of leadership in Northwest Arkansas by promoting citizen engagement, volunteerism, and leadership training.

The taskforces and the Community Vitality Workgroup have been meeting every six weeks for almost two years now. The work coming from the taskforces is so good! We’ve been impressed with everyone’s ownership and commitment to the strategy, as well as their intellect and the time they have given on behalf of themselves and/or their employer. And it’s amazing to see the transformation of our region. Northwest Arkansas is continuing to make a name for itself in the nation and the world, and now, through community leadership, Endeavor Foundation is the long-term advocate for Northwest Arkansas we challenged ourselves to be!

Anita Scism is president and CEO of the Endeavor Foundation

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