Ford Foundation is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation with a mission to advance human welfare. Created in 1936 by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford, it was originally funded by a US$25,000 gift from Edsel Ford.
In 1936, Edsel Ford—son of Henry, the founder of the Ford Motor Company—established the Ford Foundation with an initial gift of $25,000. During its early years, the foundation operated in Michigan under the leadership of Ford family members. Since the founding charter stated that resources should be used for “scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare,” the foundation made grants to many kinds of organisations.
After Edsel and Henry died in the mid-1940s, their bequests turned the foundation into the largest philanthropy in the world. Henry Ford II, Edsel’s eldest son, assumed leadership of the foundation, and he and the board of trustees commissioned a blue-ribbon panel, led by H. Rowan Gaither, to explore how the foundation could best put its greatly increased resources to use.
The seven-member Gaither Study Committee recommended that the Ford Foundation become an international philanthropy dedicated to the advancement of human welfare through reducing poverty and promoting democratic values, peace, and educational opportunity. In 1949, the trustees unanimously approved the panel’s ambitious recommendations. Over the next decades, Henry Ford II remained a key figure in the foundation, serving as President, as Chair, and Member of the Board of trustees and overseeing its transformation from a local Detroit foundation to a national and international organisation. He retired as a trustee in 1976.
In 1953, the trustees decided that to fulfill its expanded mission, the foundation should base its operations in New York. The foundation leased space in the city until 1967, when the construction of a headquarters building was completed. That iconic building, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, was later designated a landmark.
The foundation is an independent organisation, led by a distinguished board of trustees whose 16 members hail from four continents and bring leadership and expertise in a wide range of disciplines. Today Ford Foundation is the steward of a $16 billion endowment, making $500 million in grants around the world every year. Led by Darren Walker, its 10th president, it remains committed to our enduring mission—and to its legacy of bold, creative support for social change.
The Ford Foundation has a belief in the dignity of all but sees a world where many are excluded from political, economic, and social institutions that impact their lives. The organisation has been up and running for eight decades, and during that time it has worked on cutting back on poverty and justice, strengthening democratic values, promoting international cooperation and advancing human achievement.
The organisation has a vision of social justice that helps to guide it in dealing with these challenges. It wishes to see a world where everyone works towards the protection and expression of human rights. It also wants to see people being able to actively take part in decisions that impact them and share equitably in the knowledge, wealth and resources of society. It additionally wants people to have the freedom to achieve their full potential in life.
The Ford Foundation has recently revised its areas of focus and currently has a major goal of challenging inequality. It has identified that there are five areas in which inequality is driven. These are entrenched cultural narratives that undermine fairness and inclusion, rules of the economy that lead to unequal outcomes, unequal access to government decision-making and resources, a failure to invest in and protect public goods like education, and persistent prejudice. Areas worked on to challenge inequality are spread across seven areas. These are:
Civic engagement and government – working on expanding participation, engaging government, and equitable resources.
Free expression and creativity – focused on social justice storytelling and 21st-century arts infrastructure.
Equitable development – focusing on cities and regions and natural resources and climate change.
Gender, racial and ethnic justice – with a focus on freedom and dignity and the rights of women and girls.
Inclusive economies – based on quality work and economic security as well as impact investing.
Internet freedom – providing digital rights and access and technology for the public interest.
Youth opportunity and learning – based on pathways for youth success and next-generation leadership.
Importantly these areas are not seen as “silos” and work is done across each of these in creative ways to target inequality.
Types of Funds/grants available: The organisation is currently reviewing its grants ahead of 2016 and no information is available. However, it generally offers grants based on its “3 Is” strategy. The three Is are institutions, individuals, and ideas. The grants that the organisation offers have varied over time, but have always been based on the idea that social change can be achieved when people are dedicated to advancing human dignity and challenging inequality.
Over its long history, the organisation has helped to launch a wide range of different institutions including the Public Broadcasting Service in the USA, Human Rights Watch, and the South Africa Legal Resources Centre. It has also supported individuals like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, as well as Muhammad Yunus and Ai-jen Poo. Interestingly, 50 Nobel laureates were Ford Foundation grant recipients before they were awarded their Nobel prize.
Edsel Ford, Henry Ford(Founders)