Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an American private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare.[2][3][4][5] Created in 1936[6] by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford, it was originally funded by a US$25,000 gift from Edsel Ford.[3] By 1947, after the death of the two founders, the foundation owned 90% of the non-voting shares of the Ford Motor Company. (The Ford family retained the voting shares.[7]) Between 1955 and 1974, the foundation sold its Ford Motor Company holdings and now plays no role in the automobile company.

Ford Foundation
FoundedJanuary 15, 1936 (1936-01-15)
FounderEdsel Ford
Henry Ford
PurposeTo reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.
Area served
United States, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Asia
MethodGrants, funding
Francisco G. Cigarroa
Darren Walker
Endowment$12.4 billion USD[1]

Ahead of the foundation selling its Ford Motor Company holdings, in 1949 Henry Ford II created the Ford Motor Company Fund, a separate corporate foundation which to this day serves as the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Company and is not associated with the foundation.

The Ford Foundation makes grants through its headquarters and ten international field offices.[8] For many years, the foundation's financial endowment was the largest private endowment in the world; it remains among the wealthiest. For fiscal year 2014, it reported assets of US$12.4 billion and approved US$507.9 million in grants.[1][9]


After its establishment in 1936, Ford Foundation shifted its focus from Michigan philanthropic support to five areas of action. In the 1950 Report of the Study of the Ford Foundation on Policy and Program, the trustees set forth five "areas of action," according to Richard Magat (2012): economic improvements, education, freedom and democracy, human behaviour, and world peace.[10]

Since the middle of the 20th century, many of the Ford Foundation's programs have focused on increased under-represented or "minority" group representation in education, science and policy-making. For over eight decades their mission decisively advocates and supports the reduction of poverty and injustice among other values including the maintenance of democratic values, promoting engagement with other nations, and sustaining human progress and achievement at home and abroad.[10]

The Ford Foundation is one of the primary foundations offering grants that support and maintain diversity in higher education with fellowships for pre-doctoral, dissertation, and post-doctoral scholarship to increase diverse representation among Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos/Latinas and other under-represented Asian and Latino sub-groups throughout the U.S. academic labor market.[11][12] The outcomes of scholarship by its grantees from the late 20th century through the 21st century have contributed to substantial data and scholarship including national surveys such as the Nelson Diversity Surveys in STEM.[13][14][15][16]


The foundation was established January 15, 1936[3] 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." [17] 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 philanthropic organisation 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 philanthropic organisation 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 report was endorsed by the foundation's board of trustees, and they subsequently voted to move the foundation to New York City in 1953.[3][18][19] The Ford Foundation's first international field office opened in 1952 in New Delhi, India.

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.[3] This divestiture allowed Ford Motor to become a public company. Finally, Henry Ford II resigned from his trustee's role in a surprise move in December 1976. In his resignation letter, he cited his dissatisfaction with the foundation holding on to their old programs, large staff and what he saw as anti-capitalist undertones in the foundation's work.[20][21] In February 2019, Henry Ford III was elected to the Foundation's Board of Trustees, becoming the first Ford family member to serve on the board since his grandfather resigned in 1976.[22][23]

For many years, the foundation topped annual lists compiled by the Foundation Center of US foundations with the most assets and the highest annual giving. 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[1] and tenth in terms of annual grant giving.[24]


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.[25]

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.

Media and public broadcasting

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.[26] 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.[27] The Corporation for Public Broadcasting replaced NET with the Public Broadcasting Service on October 5, 1970.[28]

Arts and free speech

The foundation underwrote the Fund for the Republic in the 1950s. 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, Anthony Hecht, 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.[29]

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.[30]

Law school clinics and civil rights litigation

In 1968, the foundation began disbursing $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. Conservative critic Heather Mac Donald contends that the financial involvement of the foundation instead changed the clinics' focus from giving students practical experience to engaging in leftwing advocacy.[31]

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.[32] The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was incorporated in 1967 with a US$2.2 million grant from the foundation.[32] In the same year, the foundation funded the establishment of the Southwest Council of La Raza, the predecessor of the National Council of La Raza.[33] In 1972, the foundation provided a three-year US$1.2 million grant to the Native American Rights Fund.[32] The same year, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund opened with funding from numerous organizations, including the foundation.[32][34] In 1974, the foundation contributed funds to the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project[35] and the Latino Institute.

New York City public school decentralization

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 citywide teachers' strike led by the United Federation of Teachers.[36]


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 microcredit.[37]

In vitro fertilisation

Between 1969 and 1978, the foundation was the biggest funder for research into In vitro fertilisation in the United Kingdom, which led to the first baby, Louise Brown born from the technique. The Ford Foundation provided $1,170,194 towards the research.[38]

AIDS epidemic

In 1987, the foundation began making grants to fight the AIDS epidemic[39] and in 2010 made grant disbursements totalling US$29,512,312.[40]

International leadership

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.[41]


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.[42]

Criticisms and reforms

Ranked No. 24 on the Forbes 2018 World's Most Innovative Companies list, the Ford Foundation utilized its endowment to invest in innovative and sustainable change leadership shifting the model of grant-making in the 21st century. According to Forbes, "Ford spends between $500 million and $550 million a year to support social justice work around the world. But last year, it also pledged to plow up to $1 billion of its overall $12.5 billion endowment over the next decade into impact investing via mission-related investments (MRIs) that generate both financial and social returns."[43][44] Foundation President Darren Walker wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that that grant-making philanthropy of institutions like the Ford Foundation "must not only be generosity, but justice." [45] The Ford Foundation seeks to address "the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering" to grapple with and intervene in "how and why" inequality persists.[45]

Native Arts and Culture Foundation endowment repatriation

In 2007, the Ford Foundation co-founded the independent Native Arts and Culture Foundation by providing a portion of the new foundation's endowment out of the Ford Foundation's own. This decision to repatriate a portion of the Ford Foundation's endowment came after self-initiated research into the Ford Foundation's history of support of Native and Indigenous artists and communities. The results of this research indicated "the inadequacy of philanthropic support for Native arts and artists", and related feedback from an unnamed Native leader that "[o]nce [big foundations] put the stuff in place for an Indian program, then it is not usually funded very well. It lasts as long as the program officer who had an interest and then goes away" and recommended that an independent endowment be established and that "[n]ative leadership is crucial".[46]

Relationship with the United States Government

The foundation was accused of being funded by the US government.[47][48] 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.[49][50]

2005 Michigan Attorney General investigation

In 2005, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox began a probe of the foundation. 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.

Gender roles and feminist theory

American author, conservative philosopher, and critic of feminism Christina Hoff Sommers, criticized The Ford Foundation in her book The War Against Boys (1994) as well as other institutions in education and government.[51] Sommers alleged that the Ford Foundation funded feminist ideologies that marginalize boys and men. A Washington Post book review by E. Anthony Rotundo, author of "American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era," counters that Sommers "persistently misrepresents scholarly debate, [and] ignores evidence that contradicts her assertions" about a gender war against boys and men.[52] Spanish judge Francisco Serrano Castro made similar claims to Sommers in his 2012 book The Dictatorship of Gender.[53] These criticisms argue that the Ford Foundation is advancing a liberal agenda.

Criteria for Palestinian grantmaking

In 2003, the foundation was critiqued by US news service Jewish Telegraphic Agency, among others, for supporting Palestinian nongovernmental organizations 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.[54]

The foundation's partnership with the New Israel Fund, which began in 2003, was frequently criticized 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.[42]

Ford Foundation Building

Completed in 1968 by the firm of Roche-Dinkeloo, the Ford Foundation Building in New York City 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.


Source: History of Ford Foundation[55][56]

See also


  1. "The Ford Foundation Financial Statements As of December 31, 2014 and 2013" (PDF). Ford Foundation. 12 June 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  2. "The Ford Foundation (Grants)". Urban Ministry: TechMission. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  3. "History: Overview". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  4. Walsh, Evelyn C.; Atwater, Verne S. (9 August 2012). "A Memoir of the Ford Foundation: The Early Years". The Foundation Center: Philanthropy News Digest. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  5. "Development Studies: Foundations & Philanthropies". Wellesley College. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  6. Dietrich II, William S. (Fall 2011). "In the American grain: The amazing story of Henry Ford". Pittsburgh Quarterly. Archived from the original on 2013-11-02. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  7. "The Ford Foundation History". Funding Universe. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  8. "Regions". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  9. "Grants". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  10. Magat, Richard (2012-12-06). The Ford Foundation at Work: Philanthropic Choices, Methods and Styles. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9781461329190.
  11. Smith, Daryl (1996). Achieving Faculty Diversity. Debunking the Myths. ISBN 9780911696684.
  12. Knowles, Marjorie Fine; Harleston, Bernard W. (1997). "Achieving Diversity in the Professoriate: Challenges and Opportunities". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. "Making It Count: The Evolution of the Ford Foundation's Diversity Data Collection - The Center for Effective Philanthropy". The Center for Effective Philanthropy. 2018-09-20. Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  14. "Nelson Diversity Surveys: A Rich Data Source regarding Women and Minorities in Science". Datahound. 2015-12-03. Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  15. "Nelson Diversity Surveys - UC Davis ADVANCE". UC Davis ADVANCE. Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  16. Nelson, Donna J.; Cheng, H. N. (January 2017), "Diversity in Science: An Overview", ACS Symposium Series, American Chemical Society, pp. 1–12, doi:10.1021/bk-2017-1255.ch001, ISBN 978-0841232341
  17. Bak, Richard (3 July 2003). Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire. p. 217. ISBN 978-0471234876.
  18. "Michigan Attorney General Looks Into Policies of Ford Foundation". Philanthropy News Digest. 11 April 2006. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  19. "Ford Foundation website press release". 2005-12-02. Archived from the original on 2007-09-05. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
  20. Maurice, Caroll (12 January 1977). "Henry Ford 2d Quits Foundation, Urges Appreciation for Capitalism". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  21. Weymouth, Lally (12 March 1978). "FOUNDATION WOES THE SAGA OF HENRY FORD II: PART TWO". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  22. "Ford Foundation elects Henry Ford III to Board of Trustees". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  23. Rubin, Neal. "First Ford since 1976 named to Ford Foundation board". Detroit News. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  24. "Top 100 U.S. Foundations by Total Giving". Foundation Center. 26 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-11.
  25. "Rockefeller Archive Center to House Ford Foundation Records" (Press release). Rockefeller Archive Center. 9 April 2012. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  26. Behrens, Steve (16 May 2005). "Ford outlays seek to broaden 'public media'". Current. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  27. "Sesame Street: Company Credits". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  28. "Ford Foundation". Association of Public Television Stations. Archived from the original on 2014-05-15. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  29. "Kofi Annan". Roosevelt Institute. Archived from the original on 2014-05-15. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  30. Fowler, Keith Franklin (1969). "A History of the San Francisco Actor's Workshop". I–II. Yale School of Drama Doctor of Fine Arts Dissertations, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library: 830. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. MacDonald, Heather (11 January 2006). "Clinical, Cynical". Wall Street Journal. p. A14. Retrieved 2017-01-11. Mac Donald's characterization of clinics as primarily vehicles for leftwing advocacy was disputed in several letters to the editor published two weeks later. See "Letters to the Editor" (25 January 2006). Wall Street Journal. p. A13.
  32. Schindler, Steven. "Case 36: Social Movements and Civil Rights Litigation", Ford Foundation 1967" (PDF). Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society, Sanford School of Public Policy. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  33. "Guide to the National Council of La Raza Records,1968-1996". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  34. "Four Decades of Protecting Latino Civil Rights". Latino Justice. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  35. Acosta, Teresa Palomo (2010-06-15). "Southwest Voter Registration Education Project". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  36. Podair, Jerald E. (6 October 2001). "The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis: New York's Antigone" (PDF). Like Strangers: Blacks, Whites and New York City's Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis. Gotham Center. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  37. "The Nobel Peace Prize for 2006" (Press release). Norwegian Nobel Committee. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  38. Johnson, Martin H; Elder, Kay (2015). "The Oldham Notebooks: An analysis of the development of IVF 1969-1978. VI. Sources of support and patterns of expenditure". Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online. 1 (1): 58–70. doi:10.1016/j.rbms.2015.04.006. PMC 5341286. PMID 28299365.
  39. Hamilton, Sarah (21 June 2011). "30 years of AIDS – Looking back at the Philanthropic Response". Funders Concerned About AIDS. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  40. "U.S. Philanthropic Support to Address HIV/AIDS in 2010". Funders Concerned About AIDS. November 2011. pp. 29, 41. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  41. "Individuals Seeking Fellowships". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  42. Guttman, Nathan (6 April 2011). "Ford Foundation, Big Funder of Israeli NGOs, Pulling Out". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  43. "How The Ford Foundation Is Investing In Change". Fast Company. 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  44. Center, Foundation. "Ford Foundation Outlines New Grantmaking Approach". Philanthropy News Digest (PND). Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  45. "Opinion | Why Giving Back Isn't Enough". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  46. "Native Arts and Cultures: Research, Growth and Opportunities for Philanthropic Support" (PDF). Ford Foundation. 2010. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  47. Roland, Naomi Verbong (3 July 2013). "Funding Transatlantic Exchange between the Arts and Politics". Transatlanitc Perspectives. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  48. Epstein, Jason (20 April 1967). The CIA and the Intellectuals. New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  49. Saunders, Frances Stonor (1 April 2001). The cultural cold war: the CIA and the world of arts and letters. New York: New Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1565846647. Farfield was by no means exceptional in its incestuous character. This was the nature of power in America at this time. The system of private patronage was the pre-eminent model of how small, homogenous groups came to defend America's—and, by definition, their own—interests. Serving at the top of the pile was every self-respecting WASP's ambition. The prize was a trusteeship on either the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation, both of which were conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence.
  50. Saunders 2001, p. 141.
  51. Sommers, Christina Hoff (1994). Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. Simon & Schuster. pp. 53, 82. ISBN 978-0-671-79424-8.
  52. " The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men". Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  53. Castro, Francisco Serrano. La dictadura de género. Grupo Almuzara. ISBN 978-84-15338-81-9.
  54. Sherman, Scott (5 June 2006). "Target Ford". The Nation. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  55. "Presidents". Ford Foundation. Archived from the original on 2014-07-08. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  56. "Our origins". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2019-06-06.

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