Ford Foundation

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Ford Foundation
Ford Foundation
Founded 1936
Founder Edsel Ford and Henry Ford
Area served
United States, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Asia
Method Grants, Funding
Key people
Irene Hirano Inouye: Board of Trustees Chair, Darren Walker: President[1]
Endowment $12.4 billion USD[2]
Mission Advance human welfare
New York headquarters

The Ford Foundation is a New York headquartered, globally oriented private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare.[3][4][5][6] Created in 1936[7] by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford, it was originally funded by a US$25,000 gift from Edsel Ford.[4] By 1947, after the death of the two founders, the foundation owned 90 percent of the non-voting shares of the Ford Motor Company. (The Ford family retained the voting shares.)[8] Between 1955 and 1974, the foundation sold its Ford Motor Company holdings and now plays no role in the automobile company. For years, the foundation was the largest, and one of the most influential foundations in the world, with global reach and special interests in economic empowerment, education, human rights, democracy, the creative arts, and Third World development.

The foundation makes grants through its headquarters and ten international field offices.[9] For fiscal year 2014, it reported assets of US$12.4 billion and approved US$507.9 million in grants.[10] The grants support projects that focus on reducing poverty and injustice; promoting democratic values; and advancing human knowledge, creativity and achievement.[11]


The foundation was established January 15, 1936,[4] in Michigan by Edsel Ford (president of the Ford Motor Company) and two other executives "to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare." [12] During its early years, the foundation operated in Michigan under the leadership of Ford family members and their associates and supported the Henry Ford Hospital and the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, among other organizations.

After the deaths of Edsel Ford in 1943 and Henry Ford in 1947, the presidency of the foundation fell to Edsel's eldest son, Henry Ford II. It quickly became clear that the foundation would become the largest philanthropy in the world. The board of trustees then commissioned the Gaither Study Committee to chart the foundation's future. The committee, headed by California attorney H. Rowan Gaither, recommended that the foundation become an international philanthropy dedicated to the advancement of human welfare and "urged the foundation to focus on solving humankind's most pressing problems, whatever they might be, rather than work in any particular field...." The board embraced the recommendations in 1949.[4]

The board of directors decided to diversify the foundation's portfolio and gradually divested itself of its substantial Ford Motor Company stock between 1955 and 1974.[4] This divestiture allowed Ford Motor to become a public company.

In 2012, stating that it is not a research library, the foundation transferred its archives from New York City to the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.[13]

Major grants and initiatives

Based on recommendations made by the Gaither Study Committee and embraced by the foundation's board of trustees in 1949, the foundation expanded its grant making to include support for higher education, the arts, economic development, civil rights, and the environment, among other areas.

In 1951, the foundation made its first grant to support the development of the public broadcasting system, then known as National Educational Television (NET), which went on the air in 1952.[14] These grants continued, and in 1969 the foundation gave US$1 million to the Children's Television Workshop to help create and launch Sesame Street.[15] The Corporation for Public Broadcasting replaced NET with the Public Broadcasting Service on October 5, 1970.[16]

The foundation's first international field office opened in 1952 in New Delhi, India.

Throughout the 1950s, the foundation provided arts and humanities fellowships that supported the work of figures like Josef Albers, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Herbert Blau, E. E. Cummings, Flannery O'Connor, Jacob Lawrence, Maurice Valency, Robert Lowell, and Margaret Mead. In 1961, Kofi Annan received an educational grant from the foundation to finish his studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.[17]

Under its "Program for Playwrights", the foundation helped to support writers in professional regional theaters such as San Francisco's Actor's Workshop and offered similar help to Houston's Alley Theatre and Washington's Arena Stage.[18]

In 1967 and 1968, the foundation provided financial support for decentralization and community control of public schools in New York City. Decentralization in Ocean Hill–Brownsville led to the firing of some white teachers and administrators, which provoked a city-wide teachers' strike led by the United Federation of Teachers.[19]

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, the foundation expanded into civil rights litigation, granting $18 million to civil rights litigation groups.[20] The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was incorporated in 1967 with a US$2.2 million grant from the foundation.[20][21] In the same year, the foundation also funded the establishment of the Southwest Council of La Raza, the predecessor of the National Council of La Raza.[22] In 1972, the foundation provided a three-year US$1.2 million grant to the Native American Rights Fund.[20] The same year, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund opened with funding from numerous organizations, including the foundation.[20][23] In 1974, the foundation contributed funds to the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project[24] and the Latino Institute.[citation needed]

In 1976, the foundation helped launch the Grameen Bank, which offers small loans to the rural poor of Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering micro-credit.[25]

In 1987, the foundation began making grants to fight the AIDS epidemic[26] and in 2010 made grant disbursements totalling US$29,512,312.[27]

In 2001, the foundation launched the International Fellowships Program (IFP) with a 12-year, $280 million grant, the largest in its history. IFP is entering its concluding phase. The final cohort has been selected, and the program will conclude in 2013. Fellows represent historically disadvantaged groups from outside the United States. IFP has identified nearly 4,350 emerging leaders. More than 80 percent have completed their studies and are now serving their home communities.[28]

For many years, the foundation topped annual lists compiled by the Foundation Center of United States foundations with the most assets and the highest annual giving; however, the foundation has fallen a few places in those lists in recent years, especially with the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. As of May 4, 2013, the foundation was second in terms of assets[2] and tenth in terms of annual grant giving.[29]

In April 2011, the foundation announced that it will cease its funding for programs in Israel as of 2013. It has provided US$40 million to nongovernmental organizations in Israel since 2003 exclusively through the New Israel Fund (NIF), in the areas of advancing civil and human rights, helping Arab citizens in Israel gain equality and promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. The grants from the foundation are roughly a third of NIF's donor-advised giving, which totals about US$15 million a year.[30]

Relationship with the United States

The foundation was accused of being funded by the United States government.[31][unreliable source?][32][33] John J. McCloy, the foundation's chairman from 1958–1965, knowingly employed numerous agents and, based on the premise that a relationship with the CIA was inevitable, set up a three-person committee responsible for dealing with its requests.[34][35]

Current issues, initiatives, and goals

The foundation works on eight significant human welfare issues:

Democratic and accountable government

"Effective public institutions are essential for societies to be safe, free and prosperous. The process of governing must be more transparent, accountable and inclusive in order to achieve fairness and equity." The foundation has five initiatives under this issue:

  • Increasing Civic and Political Participation: goal is to "increase participation of marginalized communities at all levels of civic and political life."
  • Strengthening Civil Society and Philanthropy: goal is to "increase the effectiveness of civic organizations by strengthening their infrastructure and regulatory environments."
  • Promoting Electoral Reform and Democratic Participation: goal is to "eliminate barriers to democratic participation so that marginalized populations in the United States are represented fully."
  • Promoting Transparent, Effective and Accountable Government: goal is to "improve the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of government institutions and processes."
  • Reforming Global Financial Governance: goal is to "make global financial governance systems more transparent, accountable and effective."

Almost 50 percent of the grants made under this issue relate to promoting transparent, effective, and accountable government.[36]

Economic fairness

The foundation says: "Expanding opportunities and providing fair and equitable ways for all people to earn a decent living and build economic resources is essential to creating prosperous societies." The foundation has five initiatives under this issue:[37]

  • Ensuring Good Jobs and Access to Services: goal is to "help low-wage working families achieve economic self-sufficiency."
  • Promoting the Next-Generation Workforce Strategies: goal is to "improve training and employment opportunities for marginalized workers."
  • Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime: goal is to "promote social protection programs that help low-income families achieve economic stability."
  • Improving Access to Financial Services: goal is to "improve access to and the infrastructure for innovative financial products and services for low-income people."
  • Expanding Livelihood Opportunities for Poor Households: goal is to "reduce poverty for rural and urban low-income households."

Educational opportunity and scholarship

The foundation says: "In every society, people from marginalized and disadvantaged groups deserve an education that expands opportunity, guarantees quality, and achieves equitable results." The foundation has three initiatives under this issue:[38]

  • Transforming Secondary Education: goal is to "reinvent public schools through more and better learning time in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, so that students are prepared equitably for college, career and civic participation."
  • Advancing Higher Education Access and Success: goal is to "foster policy and institutional reforms that improve disadvantaged people's access to and success in high-quality higher education."
  • More and Better Learning Time: goal is to "reinvent public schools through more and better learning time in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, so that students are prepared equitably for college, career and civic participation."

Freedom of expression

The foundation says: "The free flow of information and ideas is essential to healthy, progressive societies. Our work offers space for creative expression and supports efforts to ensure that media systems and policies are open and equitable." The foundation has six initiatives under this issue:

  • Supporting Diverse Arts Spaces: goal is to "promote a new generation of 21st-century arts spaces and arts leadership that reflect the cultural richness of diverse communities."
  • Advancing Public Service Media: goal is to "develop vibrant public interest media that engages and informs citizens worldwide on critical issues."
  • Advancing Media Rights and Access: goal is to "promote universal access, open systems and diversity in the media."
  • Religion in the Public Sphere: goal is to "increase the presence and effectiveness of diverse religious perspectives dedicated to social justice."
  • Exploring Issues of Justice Through Media: goal is to "support a broad array of journalism and reporting that informs the public on issues of injustice and inequality."
  • JustFilms: goal is to "advance social justice worldwide through the talent of emerging and established filmmakers."

Over 46 percent of the grants made under this issue relate to supporting diverse arts spaces.[39]

Human rights

The foundation says: "Fulfilling the rights that belong to all people depends upon an active and engaged community and public officials and institutions committed to the inherent dignity and worth of every person." The foundation has seven initiatives under this issue:[40]

  • Advancing Racial Justice and Minority Rights: goal is to "secure equal rights and greater opportunity for racial and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples."
  • Protecting Immigrant and Migrant Rights: goal is to "help national, state and local organizations secure and protect migrant rights and integrate them into a broader social justice agenda."
  • Reforming Civil and Criminal Justice Systems: goal is to "ensure access for marginalized groups to a robust criminal justice community committed to fairness and equal protection under the law."
  • Strengthening Human Rights Worldwide: goal is to "strengthen fresh voices to make the human rights movement more responsive to the needs of the poor and marginalized with a special emphasis on the Global South."
  • Advancing Economic and Social Rights: goal is to "help people demand basic economic and social rights, and access remedies when those rights are violated."
  • Protecting Women's Rights: goal is to "improve the lives and livelihoods of low-income women by strategically addressing inequality and discrimination."
  • Reducing HIV/AIDS Discrimination and Exclusion: goal is to "protect and advance the rights of people affected by HIV/AIDS."

Metropolitan opportunity

The foundation says: "Equitable access to safe, affordable housing, efficient transportation, and good jobs is fundamental to building prosperous metropolitan areas." The foundation has three initiatives under this issue:

  • Expanding Access to Quality Housing: goal is to increase access for low-income families to asset-building homes.
  • Promoting Metropolitan Land-Use Innovation: goal is to stabilize United States neighborhoods through innovative land use and community planning strategies.
  • Connecting People to Opportunity: goal is to connect low-income people to affordable housing, good jobs, and transportation through smart regional planning.

Over 60 percent of the grants made under this issue relate to connecting people to opportunity.[41]

Sexuality and reproductive health and rights

The foundation says: "Sexuality and the right to reproductive health are fundamental to the human experience; all women and men should be able to exercise these rights free from coercion and violence." The foundation has three initiatives under this issue:[42]

  • Supporting Sexuality Research: goal is to "ensure evidence-based sexuality and reproductive health and rights research informs public policy and understanding."
  • Promoting Reproductive Rights and the Right to Sexual Health: goal is to "develop national reproductive and sexual health policies and laws supported by regional and international standards."
  • Youth Sexuality, Reproductive Health, and Rights: goal is to "advance policies and programs that ensure the improved sexual and reproductive health of marginalized young women."

In 2010 and 2011, the foundation granted a total of US$4.48 million to affiliates of the International Planned Parenthood Federation around the world that advocate, among other things, legalization of abortion or provide abortion services.[11] In 2010, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was elected to the foundation's board of trustees.[43]

Sustainable development

The foundation says: "We believe that promoting greater access among the poor to natural resources is critical to achieving two interrelated goals: reducing global poverty and sustaining the quality of our environment." The foundation has two initiatives under this issue:

  • Expanding Community Rights Over Natural Resources: goal is to "improve the livelihood of rural poor through increased access to, and decision making on, natural resources."
  • Climate Change Responses That Strengthen Rural Communities: goal is to "promote climate change policies that meet the needs of rural poor communities worldwide."

Almost 90 percent of the grants made under this issue relate to expanding community rights over natural resources.[44]

Support of the African Gender Institute

The foundation supports three projects of the African Gender Institute (headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa): the Feminist Research Associates project, the Strengthening Gender and Women's Studies for Africa's Transformation Project, and The Feminist Africa Journal.[45]

Ford Foundation Building

Completed in 1968 by the firm of Roche-Dinkeloo, the Ford Foundation Building was the first large-scale architectural building in the country to devote a substantial portion of its space to horticultural pursuits. Its well-known atrium was designed with the notion of having urban greenspace accessible to all and is an example of the application in architecture of environmental psychology. The building was recognized in 1968 by the Architectural Record as "a new kind of urban space". This design concept was used by others for many of the indoor shopping malls and skyscrapers built in subsequent decades. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building a landmark in the mid-1990s.


Over the course of its history, the foundation has been a target of political criticism, especially from populists who resented its elitism. Even more sustained criticism came from conservatives who resented its liberalism, including its support for voter registration drives among blacks in the southern United States and school redistricting in Manhattan.[46]

In 1968, the foundation began disbursing US$12 million to persuade law schools to make "law school clinics" part of their curriculum. Clinics were intended to give practical experience in law practice while providing pro bono representation to the poor. Many people,[who?] however, charge that the clinics have been used instead by professors to engage in political activism. Critics cite the financial involvement of the foundation as the turning point when these clinics began to change from giving practical experience to engaging in advocacy.[47]

In 1994, American author and former philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers alleged that the Ford Foundation funded "gender feminism", ideology that abandoned the feminist quest for equity in favour of a gender war against men.[48] Spanish judge es (Francisco Serrano Castro) made similar claims in his 2012 book The Dictatorship of Gender.[49]

Joan Roelofs, in Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (State University of New York Press, 2003) argues that Ford and similar foundations play a key role in co-opting opposition movements.[50] "While dissent from ruling class ideas is labeled 'extremism' and is isolated, individual dissenters may be welcomed and transformed. Indeed, ruling class hegemony is more durable if it is not rigid and narrow, but is able dynamically to incorporate emergent trends". She reports that John J. McCloy, while chairman of the foundation's board of trustees from 1958 to 1965, "thought of the foundation as a quasi-extension of the U.S. government. It was his habit, for instance, to drop by the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington every couple of months and casually ask whether there were any overseas projects the NSC would like to see funded." Roelofs also charges that the foundation financed counter-insurgency programs in Indonesia and other countries.

In 2003, the foundation was critiqued by U.S. news service Jewish Telegraphic Agency, among others, for supporting Palestinian nongovernmental organizations that that were accused of promoting antisemitism at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. Under pressure by several members of Congress, chief among them Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the foundation apologized and then prohibited the promotion of "violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state" among its grantees. This move itself sparked protest among university provosts and various non-profit groups on free speech issues.[51]

In 2005, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox began a probe of the foundation that ultimately backfired. Though the foundation is headquartered in New York City, it is chartered in Michigan, giving that state some jurisdiction. Cox focused on its governance, potential conflicts of interest among board members, and what he viewed as its poor record of giving to charities in Michigan. Between 1998 and 2002, the foundation gave Michigan charities about US$2.5 million per year, far less than many other charities its size. The foundation countered that an extensive review and report by the Gaither Study Committee in 1949 had recommended that the foundation broaden its scope beyond Michigan to national and international grant-making. The report was endorsed by the foundation's board of trustees, and they subsequently voted to move the foundation to New York City in 1953.[4][52][53]

The foundation's partnership with the New Israel Fund, which began in 2003, was frequently criticised regarding its choice of mostly liberal grantees and causes. This criticism came to light after the 2001 Durban Conference, where some nongovernmental organizations funded by the foundation backed resolutions equating Israeli policies as apartheid, and later, against those groups which support the delegitimization of Israel. In response, the foundation adopted stricter criteria for funding.[30]


Source: History of Ford Foundation[54]

See also


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Further reading

External links