Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation Building New York City

This is Part 13 of a Guide to Social Entrepreneurship Foundations. In these series of articles we will highlight top international Foundations focused in social business and social entrepreneuship.

Guide done by Paula Newton and Maria Fonseca

Ford Foundation

About the Foundation

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.

Management team and founders

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.

Edsel Bryant Ford

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 grant making 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 mission of the Ford Foundation is as follows:

“We believe in the inherent dignity of all people. But around the world, too many people are excluded from the political, economic and social institutions that shape their lives.”

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 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.

Geographical Location

The organisation is based in New York in the USA, but it also still has strong ties to Michigan, where it was founded. It supports organisations and individuals that are located anywhere worldwide.

Areas of Focus

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 an 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.

Thr following video, done by the Ford Foundation, is part of a year long campaign conducted by the Ford Foundation, which features a wide range of people on video—from CEOs, to musicians, activists, and fast–food workers—defining what inequality means to them.

History – Founders

In the mid 1930s, the son of Henry Ford, Edsel Ford set up the Ford Foundation. It was initially started up in Michigan with $25,000. The founding charter documented that the funds should be used for scientific, educational and charitable purposes for all public welfare, and the end result of this was grants being made to different types of entities.

Henry and Edsel died in the mid 1940s, and their inheritances led to the foundation becoming the biggest philanthropy worldwide. The son of Edsel, Henry Ford II became responsible for the organisation and a study was carried out to see how the funds could best be put to use. It was decided that the organisation turn its work towards cutting back on poverty, promoting democratic values, peace and educational opportunity, all with a view to improving human welfare. It moved to New York in the 1950s, and since its outset has taken steps to start or develop many institutions that have driven social progress.

Types of Grants/Awards and Funds 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.

Examples of types of organizations funded

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.

Education / Non Profits / Social Enterprise

The organisation supports education, non profits and social enterprise in so far as these further its ability to advance its cause of challenging inequality. Would be applicants should check the website at the start of 2016 to see the way in which the grant award process and criteria have developed or changed to review if these are still supported then.

Social media channels

The organisation can be found on various social media channels as follows:

Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 1- Skoll Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 2 – Ashoka Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 3  – Schwab Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 4 – UnLtd
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 5 – The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 6 – Jasmine Social Investments
ntelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 7 – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 8 – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 9 – The Clinton Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 10 – The  Young Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 11 – The  Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 12 – The  Open Societies Foundation