We have found with thorough pre-planning and effective meeting design, impactful conferences can be held entirely online. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute specializes in bringing people together to solve big problems and create new opportunities, and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic granted us the opportunity to explore new ways of convening clients. 

“When the pandemic hit, we were frozen,” Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director and CEO of the Institute, said. “We were unable to do business in the way we were accustomed to, but we were able to pivot with a lot of hard work and we’ve been able to fill a void by offering this valuable service to clients who are looking to bring their people together safely and effectively.” 

The expertise of the Institute and our staff has always been in connecting people, physically, while they were on our pastoral mountaintop campus through what we call the Rockefeller Ethic: collaborative problem solving + respectful dialogue + diversity of opinion = transformational change. In addition to the challenges every business faced, and are still facing, in the wake of a national health crisis, a problem unique to the Institute was how we could translate the Rockefeller Ethic and our value proposition to a virtual space. 

“This change has allowed us to reach more people while still doing the same work,” James Hopper, director of programs, said. “We’ve spent much of the past year training our staff so that this virtual space still allows for effective small group discussion, which our work relies on. We’ve never brought people to the Institute to just sit and listen to a speaker or a panel. We’ve always wanted them to work collaboratively, which we can do now through breakout sessions inside Zoom. Those smaller sessions can be recorded then brought back to the larger group as data to help clients see the change they wanted in their organization or community.” 

Moving forward, we believe virtual convenings will continue to be an important tool we can provide clients. Bringing people together on Petit Jean Mountain, in the spirit and legacy of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, will always be the ideal, but we have now hosted several successful convenings virtually with clients such as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Research Academy, Engage AR – AmeriCorps, the Arkansas Disability Policy Consortium, and the University of Arkansas — Fayetteville. 

“The pandemic forced us to be innovative and take risks,” Dr. Loyd said. “The pandemic forced us to utilize our meeting design skills, facilitation method, and the Rockefeller Ethic in new ways. We had a unique value proposition before — people would come to the mountain and we would guide them through the Rockefeller Ethic to the intended outcome — but now we’ve been able to translate that powerful experience to a virtual one. It will never take the place of meeting in person, but it has definitely augmented our work in a very important way.”

Members of our Programs and Conference Services teams will be hosting two live Q&A sessions on Zoom for prospective clients interested in the Institute hosting their virtual meeting, or who would like guidance in designing an online meeting. Each session will be 30 minutes long and will be held Wednesday, Jan. 27 from 11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 11 from 2-2:30 p.m. Click here to register for either date. There is no charge to participate.

For all other questions or to begin booking a virtual convening with the Institute, please contact Tracy Kendrick, director of conference services.

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