Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization 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.
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.
Edsel Ford – Edsel Ford was the founder of the Ford Foundation and set up the organisation with a view to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes. He had a strong interest in humanities and the arts. He died only seven years after setting the organisation up, at the young age of 49.
Darren Walker – Darren Walker has been the president of the Ford Foundation since 2013. Prior to that time, he worked as the vice president at the organisation for Education, Creativity and Free Expression. During his time in that role, he administered $140 million in grantmaking worldwide. Before he joined the Ford Foundation he worked at the Rockefeller Foundation as the vice president for foundation initiatives, and as the chief operating officer at the Abyssinian Development Corporation.
The organisation is guided in its work by a 15 member board of trustees.
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.
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.