Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
In the fifth year of a strategic plan, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) engaged WolfBrown to assess the impact of grants made under the plan as a prelude to considering whether modifications might be warranted. On a fast track, the consultants surveyed all organizations who had received funds; studied a cohort of 36 who had received 60% of those monies; interviewed several dozen individuals, including all of the foundation’s board members; prepared a report analyzing the foundation’s strategies, achievements, and lessons to be learned; and presented their findings at a fall retreat. On the basis of discussions at the retreat, they worked with the foundation’s board to craft a new funding plan.

Jump Start The Digital Divide

Almost a decade after it launched Jump Start, an initiative designed to help rural Arkansans bridge the “digital divide,” the WRF engaged WolfBrown to learn how the small towns who received funds had put them to use, and to what effect. At the time Jump Start was conceived in the late 1990s, technology was transforming American business and daily life. The disparities between those who had access to technology and those who did not were growing at an alarming rate, with significant consequences for those left behind, including an inability to tap new educational resources, adapt to shifts in the economy and workplace, or compete for business in global markets. The rural poor were cited by the President’s IT Advisory Committee as being among the “least connected,” with a lack of affordable computers, know-how, and relevant content all contributing to the problem. WRF went on to invest $1,635,639 to help citizens in Arkansas’ outlying areas address the situation.

In conducting the assessment, WolfBrown consultants reviewed volumes of files and spoke with dozens of people. They examined Jump Start’s genesis in board and staff discussions and its implementation in 12 widely varied communities of 10,000 or less. They sought to learn how the small enclaves envisioned themselves transforming low-tech circumstances to dynamic environments that might continue developing apace; about the strategies they employed to begin achieving their visions; what they accomplished and the obstacles they encountered along the way; lessons they and the Foundation learned as grant activity unfolded; and the initiative’s apparent impact some five years after the grants concluded.

The WolfBrown consultants found that while the initiative was generally well-conceived (especially in promoting access and fairness – two of the Foundation’s fundamental values), the short timeline hampered implementation, as did the choice of lead organization in some instances. Nevertheless, augmented by federal and state funds that were simultaneously addressing aspects of the “divide,” the WRF-funded programs introduced almost 10,000 people to technology, most of who went on to put it to good use in their daily lives.

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