Winrock International is a $100 million-a-year international economic development organization with 1,000 employees in more than 40 countries.
It grew from parallel dreams and a shared vision. It also grew from the land—a 927-acre tract atop Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas, where Winthrop Rockefeller, grandson of Standard Oil’s John D. Rockefeller, established Winrock Farms in 1953. He brought in a herd of hardy Santa Gertrudis cattle from Texas and created a model farm and livestock center to demonstrate state-of-the-art agricultural methods.
Economic development was a hallmark of Governor Rockefeller’s two terms as governor of Arkansas, and after his death in 1973, trustees of his estate created the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center to further his wish that the farm be “venturesome and innovative,” and provide tools to help people help themselves.
While Winthrop was focusing on livestock research and rural development, his brother John D. Rockefeller III was concentrating on Asia’s burgeoning population and its food shortages; creating the Agricultural Development Council (ADC) and the International Agricultural Development Service (IADS), organizations that would later merge to form Winrock International.
The ADC was a unique organization begun in 1954 with a focus on developing the most talented agricultural specialists in Asia. Ultimately responsible for training multiple generations of Asian academics—many of whom went on to assume significant agricultural roles across Asia in the decades to come—the ADC and Winrock names are revered across Asia.
IADS was an international economic development organization that worked to build up agricultural research programs in developing countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, a tradition that Winrock International continues to this day.
In 1985, the three organizations merged to create a new Winrock International with a strongly expanded international presence. Experts fanned out across the state, nation and globe, pairing international reach with a passion for local capacity-building. This approach proved a winning combination, as Winrock quickly became a leader in U.S. and international development.
Winrock pioneered such projects as the acclaimed Farmer-to-Farmer program, which sends American volunteer agricultural experts to provide technical assistance to farmers around the world, and (with early board member Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the Green Revolution) helped to establish the World Food Prize, which since 1987, has recognized people who have advanced the quality and availability of food in the world. Winrock’s American Carbon Registry became the nation’s first voluntary carbon-offset program, and its senior scientist Dr. Sandra Brown, a carbon accounting pioneer, was honored for her contribution to work that was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Current Winrock projects include the Sustaining Forests and Biodiversity Project in Cambodia, which was just awarded the highest honor the government gives to foreigners, and USAID’s Value Chains for Rural Development, which has launched specialty coffees grown by small farmers in Myanmar into the world specialty market.
Winrock maintains offices in Little Rock; Arlington, Virginia; Manila, Philippines; and Nairobi, Kenya. And with more than 120 projects in 46 countries, the organization truly has a global presence—improving food security in Ghana and protecting wetlands in Bangladesh. Yet, domestic initiatives such as the Innovation Hub, a collaborative makers’ space, and the Wallace Center with its support of locally produced food and food hubs, demonstrate its continuing commitment to a strong U.S. portfolio. Decades of growth have not changed the Winrock mission; they have only increased its reach.