Walton Family Foundation names Robert Burns new Home Region Program director

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,157 views 

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) announced Wednesday (Aug. 18) that Robert Burns is the new director of the Home Region Program. Burns assumes the job previously held by Karen Minkel, who resigned earlier this year. Emma Pengelly, a deputy director in the Home Region Program, filled the role on an interim basis.

Described in a WFF news release as a community relations and social innovation expert, Burns brings more than 25 years of experience in workforce housing, philanthropy, community development and governmental affairs to the foundation. He recently led efforts to promote financial inclusion and economic empowerment as senior vice president of Citi.

Burns will relocate to Northwest Arkansas later this year.

“Over the next five years, the Walton Family Foundation will work steadily and boldly toward long-term change that unlocks opportunity for every person in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta,” Tom Walton, Home Region Program chair, said in a statement. “Robert’s background as a proven leader in community relations, cross-sector collaboration and social impact will provide a new perspective that encourages our partners and us to embrace innovative, community-driven solutions to the unique needs of these regions.”

According to the release, Burns partnered with nonprofit and public agencies throughout his career to build more inclusive cities. He managed a Community Development Financial Institution and directed nonprofit solutions for an affordable housing organization. He’s also worked in local government in four states, including Kansas and Missouri. Burns also has experience leading community development efforts supporting nonprofits in Arkansas and the Delta.

Burns holds a master’s in public administration from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s in political science from Appalachian State University.

Burns’ work will focus on quality of life initiatives in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi.

Robert Burns

The Home Region Program has an annual grant budget of approximately $50 million. It is one of three longstanding programmatic areas the foundation supports — protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and improving K-12 education are others. In February, the foundation said it planned more than $2 billion in philanthropic support over the next five years to support those initiatives.

The Walton Family Foundation was created in 1987 and is led by the family of Walmart Inc. founders Sam and Helen Walton. Annie Proietti, who is one of their granddaughters, chairs the board of directors. The Walton’s youngest son, Jim Walton, is Proietti’s father.

The foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in 2019. Home Region grants totaled $66 million.

It has more than 100 employees working from Bentonville (headquarters), Washington, D.C., Jersey City, N.J. and Denver.