Founded in 2005, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (commonly called the Institute) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to continue Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller’s collaborative approach to creating transformational change and a 509(a)(3) supporting organization of the University of Arkansas System

During Winthrop Rockefeller’s twenty years in Arkansas, he hosted hundreds of conferences and meetings at his model mountaintop homestead here on Petit Jean Mountain. In keeping with this history, the Institute engages its own resources and Winthrop’s values and legacy of leadership to convene purposeful gatherings. This Institute does this by employing the “Rockefeller Ethic” — the belief that transformational change is created by combining diversity of opinion, respectful dialogue, and collaborative problem solving. 

The Institute as a Convener

“Any administration must be measured by its goals and by its objectives. Let us spell them out like men. We come here committed not to discord, but to doing … not to destroying, but to discovering … not to dividing, but by dissolving old problems with new solutions.”

Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in his 1967 inaugural address

The Institute believes, as Winthrop Rockefeller believed, that new solutions are needed to tackle old problems. The Institute develops programs that create sustainable and transformational change to benefit the quality of life of all Arkansans. 

“I hope that I will never reach a time when I will not be able to work with people whom I disagree with if we can reach a common goal by doing so.” — Winthrop Rockefeller

The goals of these programs have varied, though all are rooted in the idea that collaborative problem solving will lead to transformational change. When the Institute facilitated a two-day discussion with a statewide task force in 2017, the goal was to agree on recommendations for a government agency, the Arkansas State Plant Board, concerning the use and effects of the herbicide dicamba. Outside of original programming, the Institute continues to offer productive meeting design and facilitation services for groups tackling complex issues. 

When the Institute launched Uncommon Communities in 2015, the goal was to foster growth and collaboration between struggling Arkansas counties by providing leadership development to community leaders in rural areas, as well as connections to statewide and national expertise. As of 2021, 10 communities and counties in Arkansas have participated in Uncommon Communities.

A flagship Institute program is the Rural Health Summit, which launched in 2016. The annual program, which lasted until 2020, focused on the burgeoning health crisis of healthcare delivery in rural Arkansas. Participants from across the healthcare industry came to the Institute each year to discuss and collaborate on solutions to this problem. The goal that emerged from this work was to create an organization that could serve as a year-round connecting point and knowledge exchange for any person or organization working to improve health outcomes in rural Arkansas. The organization created from these summits was the Rural Health Association of Arkansas, a state branch of the National Rural Health Association. Before this development, Arkansas was one of only eight states in the U.S. without a rural health association and the only state among our Southern neighbors without one.

Our guests are doing the type of problem solving and imaginative thinking Winthrop Rockefeller did.

Our Partnership with the University of Arkansas System

The Institute values its relationship with the University of Arkansas System (UA System) and enjoys fruitful collaborations with the system campuses and other supporting organizations, such as the Clinton School of Public Service. The UA System president appoints the Institute’s board of directors, and the Institute is invited to attend and participate in UA System Board of Trustees meetings.

How the Institute is Funded

In October 2018, Executive Director/CEO Dr. Marta Loyd announced the creation of the Governor Winthrop Rockefeller Endowment. The Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust had given a gift in excess of $100 million for the endowment, which is held by the University of Arkansas Foundation. Annual revenue from the endowment funds a portion of the Institute’s operating expenses, including maintaining the 188-acre historic campus and executing programs that, through collaboration, create transformational change. 

In addition to earned revenue from programs, workshops, and conference clients, the Institute solicits donations, sponsorships, and grants to support the Institute’s work toward developing new programs, community leaders, and collaborative partnerships. 

Charitable support of the Institute continues in the form of individual donations. In October 2021, Marion Burton — Winthrop’s former pilot and chief of staff, and the only surviving original trustee of his estate — gave a gift of $1 million toward the Institute’s ability to deliver on its mission. 

Marion Burton speaking at the Governor Winthrop Rockefeller Endowment announcement celebration on Oct. 12, 2018.

Our Five-Year Strategic Plan

In 2019, the Institute embarked on a strategic planning process. Consistent with the mission and purpose, the Institute put the Rockefeller Ethic into practice to form its five-year strategic plan, convening multiple stakeholders with diverse viewpoints in a series of thoughtful discussions about the future of the Institute. The Institute’s Board of Directors, executive leadership, staff, partners, clients, vendors, program participants, conference guests, and other critical stakeholders in Arkansas’s political, business, nonprofit, and media organizations contributed to the plan

Our Historic Location

When Gov. Rockefeller died in 1973, the nonprofit Winrock International was established using the buildings and grounds of his home and the Winrock Farms headquarters on Petit Jean Mountain. When Winrock International relocated in 2004, the property reverted to the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.

Winrock Farms as it was in the late 1950s. The Institute was created using and restoring many of the historical buildings created when Winthrop Rockefeller first developed the property as a cattle farm.

The facilities were then leased to the UA System and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust gave $53 million to fund the development of a master plan that addressed the areas of capital improvements, operations, and educational programs. This master plan included the adaptive reuse and remodeling of 30,000 square feet of space, including restoring barns built when Gov. Rockefeller first developed the property as a cattle farm. It also involved the construction of new lodging facilities and the addition of pedestrian access and landscaping. 

“When the end of the day comes, it’s just wonderful to be here.” — Winthrop Rockefeller