A Northwest Arkansas Council program on July 31, 2019 celebrated completing Year 1 of a four-year strategic plan aimed at creating a more inclusive Northwest Arkansas region.

Leadership with EngageNWA at its Annual Convening described the program’s growing importance in the region and outlined a series of efforts completed during Year 1 with partners that include schools, cities, counties, private companies and nonprofit organizations.

Launched in 2013, EngageNWA was founded on the principle that diverse communities perform better economically, and in the increasingly global economy, the regions that embrace these challenges will thrive. EngageNWA works to involve this diversity–across all levels, sectors, and communities–to secure the region’s place as one of the nation’s best places to live and work.

As a convener and connector for leaders in business, government, and the community, EngageNWA provides a platform to demonstrate shared values, practical strategies for engagement, and positive results around efforts to build an inclusive region.

“We want EngageNWA to be a place where you can be supported, challenged and connected to a community of peers across different sectors,” EngageNWA Executive Director Margot Lemaster told a group of 90 people who attended the Annual Convening at the new TheatreSquared in Fayetteville. “Our goal is to facilitate and provide you with the support and information you need to build more inclusive practices at your work. That means we will be continually adapting, evolving, and pivoting based on your feedback.”

The attendees received a handout that described highlights from Year 1 Successes.

The importance of creating a strong region for diverse populations is critical as companies and organizations must be able to recruit and retain talent from other states and countries to ensure their success. Ever-changing Northwest Arkansas was just 4 percent nonwhite in 1990; it’s about one-third people of color today.

With strong support from primary supporters Tyson Foods and the Walmart Foundation, Year 1 successes included a series of workshops to increase understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. Through a partnership with the University of Arkansas Office for Diversity and Inclusion, those programs focused on unconscious bias and racial equity had more than 500 participants.

There were other efforts in the past year, too, including a pair of two-day workshops organized by community members in partnership with the Racial Equity Institute last fall and this summer.

EngageNWA also worked in partnership with the University of Arkansas to conduct a business survey, and received 170 responses from employers about how they are addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The results of that survey along with follow up action steps will be made public in the next few months.

The region also saw companies give increasing attention to diversity, equity and inclusion as Arvest Bank and several other businesses with operations in Northwest Arkansas hired employees focused on overseeing those efforts.

There’s significant work ahead for the EngageNWA partners as the 2020 Census is fast approaching. Engage is already working with the Arkansas Counts Complete Count Committee to ensure hard-to-count populations in Northwest Arkansas participate in the U.S. Census next year. That’s important for all Arkansas residents as many federal government programs are based on how many people live in an area, and having a larger population ensures that more federal dollars are allocated to the region. In addition to the state committee, cities across the region are forming Complete Count Committees to ensure all residents are accurately counted in the Census.

For more information about EngageNWA, including ways to get involved, visit engagenwa.org.

Pictured at the top: Elecia Smith, Executive Director of the IDEALS Institute, was among the speakers at the EngageNWA Annual Convening.