Field Notes: A Focus on ‘Building Healthy Organizations’

The Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker discusses the evolution of the foundation and its new thinking on using operating support to bolster organizations.

In a new post, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker explains his next steps for the future of the enterprise.  Ford’s new strategy seeks to improve the way the foundation serves its mission of “human dignity for all”:

…the majority of the feedback I received was not about what we fund. It was about how we fund. Time and again, the organizations we support have said that our prioritizing project support, as opposed to general operating support, tends to stifle their work, forcing them to focus on incremental outputs rather than long-term organizational strategy and effectiveness.

Walker highlighted the Foundation’s “three I’s”: “building institutions; investing in individuals, human capital, and leadership; and supporting new ideas.”

While Walker emphasized Ford’s accomplishments, he noted, “The question before us now, therefore, is this: How do we identify the institutions, individuals, and ideas that will lead the next era of progress toward human dignity for all?”

He identified five primary factors that the foundation believes contribute to inequality:

  • Cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion

  • Unequal access to government decision making and resources

  • Persistent prejudice and discrimination against women as well as racial, ethnic, and caste minorities

  • Rules of the economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes

  • The failure to invest in and protect vital public goods, such as education and natural resources

Walker stated Ford will focus on six program areas to tackle inequality: civic engagement and government, creativity and free expression, gender, ethnic, and racial justice, inclusive economics, internet freedom, and youth opportunity and learning. The foundation will also take a different approach to their investments in organizations:

 I, we have decided to invest in organizations as partners—and to give them the kind of trust, flexibility, and additional supports they need to do their best work. As incubators for both individuals and ideas, organizations are essential to developing a robust ecosystem of actors addressing inequality around the world…

In some cases this may mean larger, longer-term grants that can be used more flexibly. In other cases it may mean support for wraparound services that help an organization develop, adapt to change, or even merge with others. Whatever form it takes—depending on context and the needs of each organization—our aim is to ask not, “How do we make this grant successful?” but rather, “How do we help make this organization successful?”


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