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Leading the way

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was proud to send Janet Harris, director of programs, to participate in the 2016-17 session of Leadership Arkansas. Leadership Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, provides an immersive experience for up-and-coming leaders in Arkansas to learn and grow in their leadership capacity.

Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd had this to say about Janet's experience:

"Upon nominating Janet for Leadership Arkansas, I knew the experience would be a win-win-win. I was not disappointed in that it was a win for Janet - she grew professionally and personally and built lasting relationships across the state. It was a win for Leadership Arkansas - Janet is intellectually curious and has a sharp mind. I am certain the class benefited greatly by her participation. And it was a win for the Institute - Janet was able to spread the word to class XI about our compelling mission and the good work we are doing here. I am proud of Janet for her commitment to the program and congratulate her on making the most of the opportunity."

Janet recently responded to some questions we had about her experience.

Q: What expectations did you have going into Leadership Arkansas? How did the experience compare to your initial expectations?

A: Having formerly traveled the state extensively as a leader in state government, I looked forward to engaging with private sector leaders from the perspective of the Institute, learning more about their successes and hearing their perspective on Arkansas’ workforce development challenges. The experience exceeded my expectations in that regard, particularly in the way that we were welcomed into each community and allowed access to “behind-the-scenes” operations at some of our state’s leading industries and the candid conversations we were able to have with them. Arkansas is such a diverse state, with each of our regions having unique strengths and opportunities for growth.  I found the experience of meeting those local leaders and spending time with them in their communities to be invaluable. 

Q: What is one or more things you learned about Arkansas, business or leadership that you did not know before LA?

A: We had some wonderful leadership and personal development sessions during the program. The ones that stand out the most are the visioning and leadership exercises we participated in at Crystal Bridges, where we were encouraged to think about leadership through our experience with art, and our last session with Dr. Jeff Standridge, who tailored a leadership exercise for us that really caused me to think deeply about my personal and professional goal-setting.

Q: Describe one of your favorite memories from your experience.

A: The state government and military session held at the State Capitol and at Little Rock Air Force Base, respectively, were my favorite sessions. We held a mock legislative session at the Capitol, which for me felt like coming home after my years in state government. Gen. Joe Wilson, a class member of ours, was such a gracious host at the LRAFB, and not only were we given a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the base, but we also had a chance to fly on a C-130, which was quite the thrill. I even managed to keep down my lunch! Overall, though, the connections and friendships I made with my classmates will be what I value most in the years to come. We had a great time getting to know one another and developed a deep respect for the work that we are each doing in our communities.

Q: How will your class of LA stay connected and engaged?

A: We have appointed two dynamic class representatives who are already finding opportunities for us to reconnect with each other. Thanks to the leadership of class member Mark Scott of Walmart, we are having a bonus session in Bentonville later in July. And, I am so pleased that Leadership Arkansas Class XII will host their opening session at the Institute, where I will be helping out as an alum. We have a Facebook group where we keep up with each other’s professional accomplishments and family news, and we have committed to participating as alums together for various other Class XII sessions. I am hoping that we can bring Leadership Arkansas alumni to the mountain for a summit-style working session like we do for our Under 40 Leaders, so that we can continually keep this group of professionals engaged in contributing to solutions for Arkansas.

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Under 40 Forum report touts ways to heal state’s ‘fractures’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 30, 2017) — The 2017 Under 40 Forum report was released this morning by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The report is being mailed to political, business and community leaders across the state and can be viewed online at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/2017under40report.

The report summarizes the discussions that took place March 2-3 at the Rockefeller Institute at the Under 40 Forum, which invited all 40 Under 40 honorees as designated by the two business publications in 2016 to engage in meaningful dialogue to address “Fractured Arkansas.” The topic sought to explore the various divisions – social, economic, cultural, political, etc. – that divide the state and hinder progress, and to offer solutions to those challenges.

A group of the 2017 Under 40 Forum participants met earlier today with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss the report and expand on their findings.

“After my meeting with the Under 40 honorees at the Capitol on Tuesday morning, I am more confident than ever about the future of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This generation of leaders have big ideas and the commitment to service that will help bring the ideas into reality. I applaud them for their hard work and clear thinking.”

One of the key issues identified in the report is a need for alternative approaches to education.

“It’s no surprise that education was a key part of the discussion at the Under 40 Forum,” said Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute. “This topic was a highlight of their meeting with the governor. They championed a greater commitment to internships and mentorships for high school students. Building bridges between the business community and our schools was a clear priority.”

Another key theme of the report is leadership in cultural competency.

“The need for better understanding across cultural gaps is pretty clear,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “It was encouraging to have this impressive group of young leaders, from various cultural backgrounds, all working together and all willing to be honest with the governor about what they think is important.”

One of the recommendations in the report is for cultural competency to become a priority not just in the more populated portions of the state, but also in small towns and in corporate board rooms.

The Under 40 Forum began in 2016 as a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It was supported this year by Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Simmons Bank, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Clinton School.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Our own version of March Madness

March came shooting out of a cannon at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. We put on four programs in March, up from our typical 1-2 per month schedule that we typically adhere to.

We kicked off the month with the second annual Under 40 Forum, which brought some of the state’s brightest young leaders, as designated by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and Arkansas Business, together for a  two-day facilitated discussion on the fractures that divide our state and ways to heal them. The Forum is held in conjunction with the Clinton School of Public Service. One the participants – Eric Wilson, CEO of Noble Impact – offered this feedback on the Forum: “Every state has a 40 Under 40 list, and most of them are photo opportunities and a happy hour. But here in Arkansas, we’re trying to do something more. Instead of just taking a photo, we’re getting everybody together in a room and asking them to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing our state.”

A report detailing the group’s findings is forthcoming and will be distributed to leadership across the state in government, business and communities.

Then about a week later on a cool spring day, more than 65 participants gathered at the Institute for the Business Workshop for Landowners. Part of a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise Program and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, the workshop provided experts with in-the-field knowledge on how to manage the land and look at their land with a different focus.

The morning session included a field tour just a short drive from the Institute on the property of Mr. Henry Jones. The property included 288 acres of short-leaf pine and hardwoods. The property has been in Mr. Jones’ family since 1884 and started out as a cotton field and evolved through the years to some timber property and space for the family to hunt and experience nature. During the field tour, participants enjoyed talks from wildlife biologists, foresters and Mr. Jones discussing the history of the property and different forestry management techniques such as thinning to improve forest stands and disking for wildlife. Mr. Jones was able to show his success after implementing these techniques in one year’s time: a quail covey established on the west end of his property. 

After lunch, attendees heard talks on recreational enterprise opportunities, legal liability issues and estate planning. We sold out the event this time and already have folks asking about the next workshop. We hope to have another one in the fall, with an announcement coming late spring or early summer.

The following day, on March 10, we held our ninth Uncommon Communities training. Uncommon Communities is our community and economic development program done in partnership with Dr. Vaughn Grisham, the Cooperative Extension’s Breakthrough Solutions program and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s School of Public Affairs. In this session, our five participating counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – were coached in quality of place and placemaking.

Representatives from Yell County presented to the group their plans for downtown revitalization in Dardanelle. These plans include installation of a hammock park, a dog park, historical re-enactments, bike and walking trails, a Native American heritage museum and more.

Finally, on March 23-24, we held our Rural Health Summit (pictured above), which convened health care leaders from across the state to identify gaps and opportunities related to health care in rural areas. This is the first wide-scale effort to address this pressing need. The Institute will soon report out to the group with a summary of their recommendations, and a group of volunteers from among the participants will work to begin implementing some of those recommendations and identifying other partners to join for another summit in late 2017 or early 2018. This effort has the potential to provide higher quality and more access to care for our state’s rural populations, all through the power of collaboration and cooperation.

There’s lots more to come in 2017 for the Institute, including our Art in its Natural State competition, which kicked off in February, and our annual performance of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. We’re relieved that the March Madness is behind us and are ready to take on the next challenges.

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Dr. Ruth Hawkins to deliver keynote at Uncommon Communities session

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Jan. 9, 2017) — Renowned heritage tourism expert Dr. Ruth Hawkins will deliver the keynote address at the January session of Uncommon Communities. Hawkins will deliver her keynote address at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

Admission to the keynote address is free and open to the public, though advance registration is required. Those interested in registering should visit https://ruthhawkinsuncommoncommunities.eventbrite.com.

Hawkins is the director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at Arkansas State University. In this role, she has developed and directed the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center at Piggott, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum at Tyronza, the Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village and the Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash.

Hawkins’ presentation, titled “Using Your Community’s Heritage for Fun and Profit,” will cover ways in which small communities can use their own unique history to drive tourism and economic development.

“Dr. Hawkins is known throughout Arkansas as a leader in heritage tourism and historic preservation,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “The work she has done in northeast Arkansas and the Arkansas Delta has been transformative for those communities. We look forward to drawing from her insights into this important aspect of community and economic development.”

Uncommon Communities is a community and economic development initiative that provides participants, chosen by their respective communities, the opportunity to attend five carefully crafted sessions at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute over the course of a year. Each of the five counties in the pilot group – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – is invited to send six participants to the sessions, which are held for a day and a half, every other month. The sessions were designed based on feedback from the counties when asked what skills and resources they needed to accomplish their goals and include: community leadership development, economic development in the new economy; tourism, marketing and branding; quality of place and placemaking; and exemplary communities moving forward. Each session brings renowned speakers from across the United States plus throughout Arkansas. In addition, many of the sessions are interactive and give participants the opportunity to work in groups and learn from other participating counties.

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities is supported by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, and by Entergy.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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'Together we can become worthy of the moment'

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and living atop Petit Jean Mountain, I am blessed with easy access to some of the prettiest scenic views in Arkansas. I can’t help but think that the picturesque vistas looking westward off of Petit Jean’s broad plateau is part of what kept Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas.

But Rockefeller’s view of Arkansas went well beyond his recognition of its natural beauty. From his farm, home and office on Petit Jean, he could see not just the physical attributes of the Arkansas River Valley, he cast a vision for the future of a state that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, was hanging in the balance.

That vision led him into politics, and 50 years ago today, he was sworn in as the 37th governor of the state of Arkansas.

A lot has changed in Arkansas in 50 years, and much of the positive change that has happened here can be traced back to the two terms that Winthrop Rockefeller served as governor.

Today I was privileged to sit in the gallery as Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. At the suggestion of our director of programs, Janet Harris, we reached out to the governor’s office to remind them that the State of the State address happened to fall on the monumental anniversary of Winthrop Rockefeller’s inauguration.

Gov. Hutchinson opened his address with a quote from Rockefeller’s inaugural speech:

“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”

Hutchinson followed that quote with a charge to the Legislature: “Today, we have our own moment in history, and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.”

Commitment to a collaborative approach to problem-solving was a hallmark of not just Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration, but his entire life. I was proud to hear that sentiment echoed 50 years from the time he first took office.

I was also struck by some of the parallels between the two governors’ priorities. Hutchinson today spoke of the need for more efficiency in government. This was also a priority of Rockefeller, who dramatically reduced the total number of state agencies during his tenure as governor.

Hutchinson touted recent economic development efforts throughout the state, citing Sig Sauer in Jacksonville, Sun Paper in Arkadelphia, Metova in Conway, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith, FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro and J.B. Hunt in Rogers. Before running for governor, Rockefeller served as the chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, a precursor to today’s Economic Development Commission. He helped usher in more than 600 new industries in Arkansas, resulting in more than $250 million in added salaries.

I’d like to think that if Gov. Rockefeller could have heard today’s State of the State address, he would be proud to hear how far we’ve come as a state. But he would also roll up his sleeves and prepare for the work yet to be done.

A mentor once told me that if I wanted to truly make a difference in my life, I needed to become a part of something that would outlive me. He also suggested that if we hope to see our work completed, we simply have not asked big enough questions. Winthrop Rockefeller personified this philosophy and dared to ask big questions. He took on challenges that he knew he would not live to see conquered.

As I reflect on the work of the Institute and on the indelible legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller on this important anniversary, I am inspired by his accomplishments, but also by his heart and his approach—which was to engage and empower others and to encourage them to aim high toward answering the big questions.

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Out of many, one

In September, I went into the first session of Leadership Conway County not quite sure what to expect. It started with a two-day retreat with a group of people whom I had never met. I was curious as to what we would be learning as well as doing for the betterment of Conway County. After just three sessions into our 10 month program, I have learned more about the needs of our community, as well as what our group wants and desires from these classes. And, unexpectedly, I have learned more about myself in the process.

The Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 (or LCC 2.0 … we do not have an official name at the moment) is quite a unique group. The members range from a senior in high school to the chief of police; a Vietnam veteran-turned-city councilman to a man who participates in timber sports in his spare time; school teachers to a conference food service manager. We all see different areas of the community, which helps to give a unique perspective on the needs of the citizens. The classes so far have ranged from a jovial getting-to-know-each-other retreat to an emotional session on what makes a great leader. And we are really just getting started, being only three sessions into the class.

At our first meeting, after introductions, I learned a little about the history of Conway County, including the importance and changes that came by Winthrop Rockefeller moving to the county. Some of the story I had already heard, but being able to hear some personal vignettes made the influence more real. Jerry Smith, our interim leader (he emphasizes the interim part), put together a great two-day program, which helped us not only get to know each other, but aided us in defining what we felt were the needs and wants of our community. The next session, which started as an interactive exercise on communication, became a discussion on the different types of citizens within our community and what ways we can work with all of them to help get things done. Since the majority of the members have lived in Conway County either all of their lives or at least more than half of their life, I was able to interject my experiences not being from the area. Our latest session was spent hearing from two speakers on the importance of leadership and what makes someone an effective person. I learned the most about myself during this session. And by knowing more about me, I can use what I have to help others. The other members are not necessarily involved for the same reasons, but our ultimate goal is shared: We all want our county to grow. We want it to be a place we are proud to call home, a place to raise a family, a place the residents want to stay.

I am honored to be involved with this group of citizens who are all wanting to get to work on helping their community grow. Though we are still finding our footing, the Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 is sure to spend the next few months getting things rolling in the community.

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Let's talk about goats

By all accounts, the inaugural Arkansas Goat Festival in Perryville, held earlier this month, was a smashing success. And really, how could it not have been? There were goats on parade. People in goat costumes. Goats in people costumes. And all other sorts of things goat.

We've gotten to know festival organizer Sarah French, co-owner of Crescent Creek Farm, through her involvement in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute's Uncommon Communities initiative. We touched base with Sarah for a post-Goat Festival check-in.

Q: I know this idea was sparked from the Uncommon Communities initiative, but how exactly did it come about?

A: Liz van Dalsem and I were talking about events for "Saturday on the square," and I thought, "how much fun would it be to have a goat parade? Oh! Oh! What if the goats were in costumes? And we could have goat X and goat Y," and it grew from there.

Q: What were your expectations for this year’s event, and were those expectations met?

A: I thought this project was pretty audacious on so many levels, and "expectations" isn't the right word to describe it - I would call them hopes. And since I had no precedent to judge anything on, I could only go based on social media and face-to-face feedback I got. I really just hoped people would come. And people came. I felt like 500 people would have been "successful" and we more than doubled that ( coincidentally, we also doubled the population of Perryville for the day!) . I was very relieved and thrilled that the buzz on social media actually did translate into people getting in their cars and making the drive. So I guess the answer to your question is yes.

Q: What were your favorite moments or “snapshots” from the event?

A: That day is mostly a blur for me, but seeing all the people and so much energy and happy attendees and GOATS IN COSTUMES ... dreams do come true! 

Q: How do you see the event expanding next year?

A: We have lots of ideas for next year, some new additions to the lineup and some retouching of what we did this year. I don't have details on how it will expand, but we know more now than we did before and it's only going to be better in 2017.

Q: How can Perry County capitalize on the success of this event?

A: There has been talk (not necessarily in official circles, but talk none the less) of making a goat-play structure at the city park. Like some cities have dog parks. We could have the only goat park in the country. So I do hope there is movement on that, and I will support it any way I can. Now that it's clear people will actually come, we can position ourselves to be ready for tourists, to advertise how fun and family-friendly we are, to entertain goat lovers from all over the country!

Q: Any details you can share about next year's event?

A: I don't have much information to offer, except to please block your calendars for the first Saturday of October, 2017. The "Second Annual" Arkansas Goat Festival will be Oct. 7, 2017. This time, we will have a committee, and we'll start planning in January instead of August! This gives me great optimism for a bigger, better, more well-fed event.

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Creating a culture of cooperation in Conway County

It was 1996 when Dr. Vaughn Grisham first came to Conway County. He came at the behest of Barry McKuin, then of the Chamber of Commerce, now on the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute board, having heard Vaughn speak on his belief that community development precedes and works in tandem with economic development. That partnership was prophetic as it helped prepare Conway County in facing some of its most significant economic challenges with the loss of a number of major employers.

Fade to 2016 and Dr. Grisham has returned. Working in partnership with the Institute, Breakthrough Solutions and UALR’s Institute of Government, Vaughn helped develop the curriculum for the Uncommon Communities initiative working to improve the quality of life and economic climate in Conway, Pope, Perry, Van Buren and Yell counties.

2016 also brings with it the return of Leadership Conway County. Dormant for about a decade, participating in the initiative and working again with Dr. Grisham via the Uncommon Communities initiative inspired a group of leaders to decide that resurrecting Leadership Conway County is a necessary step in preparing the county for 21st century economic development.

Kickoff began in September and will continue monthly for nine sessions, including an overnight retreat. The session topics include: Teambuilding, Change, Group Dynamics, Diversity, Leadership Development, Ethics, Historical Perspective of Morrilton and Conway County, infrastructure tour, community development and trust building, economic tours, and a poverty simulation followed by the graduation ceremony.

The Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce is leading the way in producing the updated program. Col. Joe Dowdy, USMC (Ret.) will be the keynote speaker at both the fall chamber banquet as well as the facilitator of the session on leadership. Col. Dowdy spoke at the kickoff of Year I of Uncommon Communities, and his powerful message was key in reminding the core committee how important leadership development is to community improvement.

More information about Leadership Conway County is available on the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce website.

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Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Clinton School of Public Service team up to present Under 40 Forum

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (March 29, 2016) — The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and the Clinton School of Public Service will partner this week to present the inaugural Under 40 Forum, an overnight retreat designed to connect the honorees of the annual 40 Under 40 lists as published by Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.

All 78 honorees from the two publications’ 2015 lists (there were two individuals on both lists) have been invited to gather at the Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain Friday and Saturday for this one-of-a-kind event. Gov. Asa Hutchinson will kick off the event Friday with an address and question-and-answer session. The participants will then engage in a facilitated discussion centered around recruitment and retention of young talent in the state. Matt DeCample, president of Aarch Communications in Little Rock and previously communications director for former Gov. Mike Beebe, will serve as facilitator.

The conversation about talent recruitment and retention will continue Saturday morning, with plenty of networking opportunities built in.

“Our goal for this meeting is two-fold,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “First of all, we want to engage these young leaders in a meaningful discussion about the future of our state. Second, we firmly believe in the power of connection and collaboration, so we want to give them ample time and space to get to know one another.”

A report detailing the outcomes of the facilitated discussions will be published and provided to the governor’s office, the state Legislature and other state leaders.

“This is exactly the type of summit we think Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller would be proud of,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “He was known for using his beautiful space atop Petit Jean to convene the best and brightest minds in the state and beyond to advance solutions to Arkansas’ most pressing needs. We look forward to seeing what this distinguished group of people brings to the discussion.”

The Under 40 Forum is being held in full cooperation with Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The event is by invitation only to the 78 honorees, though Gov. Hutchinson’s address will be open to the media. The resulting report will be available to view at www.rockefellerinstitute.org.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

 

About the Clinton School of Public Service

The first school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service (MPS) degree, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service gives students the knowledge and experience to further their careers in the areas of nonprofit, governmental, volunteer or private sector service.

A two-year graduate program with a real-world curriculum, the Clinton School is located on the grounds of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Ark. The school embodies former President Clinton’s vision of building leadership in civic engagement and enhancing people’s capacity to work across disciplinary, racial, ethnic and geographical boundaries. For more information, visit www.clintonschool.uasys.edu.

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Cuba's contradictions

Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd and Director of Programs Janet Harris traveled to Havana in late June as part of an educational and trade mission organized by the Arkansas World Trade Center. Their purpose in visiting Cuba was to learn more about educational partnerships with the Cuban people as the U.S. continues to normalize relations with the island country. This is one of a series of articles reflecting on their visit. 

The plane ride from Miami to Havana only takes 45 minutes. In fact, Cuba’s capital city is a mere 106 miles from Key West, making it one of our closest neighbors. Yet Cuba remains a mystery to most Americans who have been restricted from regular travel to the island for more than 50 years. What we imagined we knew came mostly from books, movies and legend.

Antique cars like this one were the rule, not the exception, in Havana

Stepping onto Cuban soil for the first time, legend comes to life. Antique cars, men in straw fedoras, Che Guevara iconography, salsa music and buildings neglected since the revolution confirm popular stereotypes of a country “frozen in time.” But Cuba’s challenges and obstacles have prepared the country to leapfrog into the 21st century in ways we never expected, and there is much more to their story than stereotype.

While some buildings in Cuba have white-washed facades, many show decades of wear and repair

Partly, Cuba is defined by its contradictions. There’s the island nation neighbor to the south, and the communist country that might as well be on the other side of the world, separated by years of political distrust and broken promises. There’s a whitewashed façade that welcomes tourists, and there’s the broken buildings and machines that Cubans are forced to repair over and over in ingenious ways because they can’t buy anything new. There is the Cuba Fidel Castro dreamed of, and the stark reality that has emerged after 57 years of communist rule. There’s the Cuba we can help, and the one from which we can learn.

Cuba’s energy sector is a good example. We visited the Cuban Ministry of Energy and Mines to learn how they planned to meet the island’s rapidly increasing energy demands. Cuba currently burns crude oil and disperses energy through a system of generators. Through its trading relationship with Russia and more recently, Venezuela, oil has been an abundant and cheap energy source for many years.

Ministry officials recognize that their oil-powered generation system is dirty and inefficient. It also makes Cuba dangerously dependent on its trading partners, as Venezuela’s recent collapse proves.  

So the government’s energy plan calls for a 20 percent increase in renewable energy sources by 2030. Ministry officials are promoting opportunities for foreign investment in wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, keenly aware that its wise use of natural resources is key to the country’s energy security. Combined with an increased focus on natural gas production, Cuba is paving the way for a cleaner and more efficient system of energy production. Because it is not forced to wean itself from coal, the country is leapfrogging from crude oil to clean energy.

Increasing power plant efficiency, whatever the energy source, will be a priority for the ministry in coming years, a potential opportunity for schools like the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope offering a degree program in power plant technology.

The Cuban agriculture sector is prepared to leapfrog, too, albeit accidentally. The vast majority of Cuba’s farmland is still state-run, but farming cooperatives are on the rise.  Since the Soviet collapse of the 1990s, Cuban farmers have had no access to modern equipment, fertilizers or pesticides. The organic movement in the United States represented a return to natural farming practices by choice. In Cuba, organic farming was born out of necessity. 

Now Cuba’s plant scientists are embracing the organic movement, looking for ways to continue sustainable farming practices and increase yield. If they are successful in improving mechanization, Cuban farmers could be in a position to export organic food to the U.S., provided trade barriers are removed.

For now, though, Cuba faces immediate challenges in feeding its own people. The country’s infrastructure cannot adequately handle transportation of fruits, vegetables and frozen foods. Government farmland lies fallow in many places in the country, farmers lack the facilities and means to grow chickens, and Cubans must import most of their food. 

“Our people do not have enough animal protein in their diet,” said Dr. Yordan Martinez Aguilar of the University of Granma, who is working on a plant extract that could potentially replace antibiotics in poultry production. His hope is to provide a way to grow healthy broilers on the island without the use of antibiotics.

His work is significant and potentially groundbreaking. People like Yordan represent the best of all contradictions in Cuba. Cuban researchers are renowned in fields of medicine, animal science and biotechnology, and we can learn from them. Education is a public benefit free to all of its citizens, and the Cubans we met were very grateful for their educational opportunities and success. 

Still, the country’s challenges and limitations make the Cuban people somewhat isolated.

“We would like it very much if you would lift the blockade,” Yordan quietly remarked in one of our conversations, a stark reminder about his reality and the obstacles we face in engaging with one another. They are obstacles we must overcome if we are to know the Cuban people. They are worth knowing, worth helping and worth learning from.

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