Ford Foundation

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Ford Foundation
FoundersHenry & Edsel Ford
HeadquartersNew York, New York, United States
FocusAdvance Human Welfare
MethodGrants, Funding
Endowment$13.7 billion USD
Manhattan headquarters

The Ford Foundation is a Private foundation incorporated in Michigan and based in New York City created to fund programs that were chartered in 1936 by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford.

The foundation makes grants through its New York headquarters and through twelve international field offices. In fiscal year 2007, it reported assets of $13.7 billion and approved $530 million in grants[1] for projects that focused on strengthening democratic values, community and economic development, education, media, arts and culture, and human rights.[2]



The Ford Foundation was chartered on January 15, 1936 in Michigan by Edsel Ford and two Ford Motor Company executives "to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare".[3] During its early years, the foundation operated in Michigan under the leadership of Ford family members and their associates, and supported such organizations as the Henry Ford Hospital, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, among others.

After the deaths of Edsel Ford in 1943 and Henry Ford in 1947, the presidency of the Ford Foundation fell to Edsel's eldest son, Henry Ford II. Under Henry Ford II's leadership, the Ford Foundation board of trustees commissioned a report to determine how the foundation should continue. The committee, headed by California attorney H. Rowan Gaither, recommended that the foundation should commit to promoting peace, freedom, and education throughout the world. It provided funding for various projects, including the pre-existing network, National Educational Television, which went on the air in 1952. However, the Ford Foundation, with the help of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting shut it down and replaced it with the Public Broadcasting Service in October 1970. The board of directors decided to diversify the foundation's portfolio and gradually divested itself of its substantial Ford Motor Company stock between 1956 and 1974. Through this divestiture, the Ford Motor Company became a Public company in 1956.

Other than its name, the Ford Foundation has not had any connections to the Ford Motor Company nor the Ford family for over thirty years. Henry Ford II, the last family member on the board of trustees, resigned from the foundation board in 1976, encouraging foundation staff to remain open to new ideas and work to strengthen the country’s economic system.

Major Grants and Initiatives

Based on recommendations outlined in the 1950 Gaither report, the foundation, under the leadership of Henry Ford II, expanded its grant making to include support for higher education, the arts, economic development, civil rights, and the environment, among other areas.

In 1951, Ford made its first grant to support the development of the public broadcasting system.[4] These grants continued, and in 1969 the foundation gave $1 million to the Children’s Television Workshop to help create and launch “Sesame Street”. [5]

In 1952, the foundation’s first international field office opened in New Delhi, India.

Throughout the 1950s, the foundation provided a series of arts and humanities fellowships that supported the work of figures like Josef Albers, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, E. E. Cummings, Flannery O'Connor, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Lowell, and Margaret Mead.

In 1976, the foundation helped launch the Grameen Bank, which offers small loans to the rural poor of Bangladesh. In 2006, the Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering micro-credit.[6]

In the late 1980s, the foundation began making grants to fight the AIDS epidemic, which included support for the establishment of a $4.5 million program to improve AIDS education and treatment in communities around the country.

In 2000, the foundation launched the International Fellowships Program (IFP) with a 12-year, $280 million grant, the largest in its history. IFP provides fellowships to students from marginalized communities outside the U.S. to pursue graduate studies at universities anywhere in the world. Fellows are selected in 22 countries in Asia, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America where the foundation has grant-making programs. Fellowships support study fields that relate to the foundation's many and diverse grant-making areas. [7]

For many years, the foundation topped annual lists compiled by the Foundation Center of U.S. 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. In 2006, the foundation was 2nd and far behind the Gates Foundation in terms of assets and 4th in terms of annual grant giving. [8]

Current Programs

The Ford Foundation's grant making teams work in three broad program areas. The teams were set up to advance the core elements of the foundation's mission: strengthen democractic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.

Reducing Poverty: Asset Building and Community Development Program The Asset Building and Community Development team works to reduce poverty by funding projects that help people in the United States and around the world build wealth and join the economic mainstream.

Over the last decade, Ford has helped pioneer new programs that make it possible for low-income families to become homeowners and create savings. It has sought out new partnerships with the financial industry to bring banking and financial services to a greater number of low-income families and individuals.

This grant making team also works to improve the livelihoods of people living in rural communities, and funds job training and education programs that help the poor boost their earning power and strengthen long-term economic security.[9]

Strengthening Democracy and International Cooperation: Peace and Social Justice Program The Peace and Social Justice team works to strengthen democratic values and promote international cooperation by funding efforts to reduce conflict, build accountable governments and protect human rights.

The foundation is one of the largest funders of programs around the world that help promote good governance, strengthen democracy, protect human rights and fight corruption.

It also supports programs that promote the peaceful resolution of conflict and build the capacity of new, local philanthropies around the world that serve the poor.[10]

Advancing Human Achievement: Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program The Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom team works to advance human achievement through support of the arts, education, media and cultural initiatives.

For decades, Ford has been a major funder of efforts to give more students access to higher education, improve the quality of public schools, and build new fields of scholarly research.

The foundation's grantees also create new opportunities for cultural and artistic expression, especially among the poor and marginalized. In 2006, Ford announced a new program to strengthen the livelihoods of individual artists.[11]


Built in 1967 by the firm of Roche-Dinkleloo, 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. This Atrium (architecture) was designed with the notion of having accessible urban Greenspace to all, and is an example of the applications of Environmental psychology. The building was recognized in 1968 by the Architectural Record as "a new kind of urban space". This design concept was later extended to include 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 Ford Foundation has been a target of criticism from both the political left and the right. The John Birch Society in the late 1950s charged the Foundation as participating in a Communist conspiracy. [12]

In 1968, the foundation began disbursing $12 million to persuade Law school 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. However, critics charge that the clinics have been used instead as an avenue for the professors to engage in political activism. Critics cite the financial involvement of the Ford Foundation as the turning point when such clinics began to change from giving practical experience to engaging in advocacy.[13]

The former Binghamton University professor of sociology, James Petras, and other critics accuse the Foundation of being a Front organization for the Central Intelligence Agency. Petras names the exchange of high-ranking personnel between the CIA and the Foundation, Ford Foundation's big donations to the CIA-backed Association for Cultural Freedom, the former Foundation president Richard Bissell's relationship with Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Allen Dulles and involvement with the Marshall Plan during the 1950s, among other things. According to Petras, the Ford Foundation funds "anti-Left-wing politics human rights groups which focus on attacking human rights violations of U.S. adversaries".

Another American academic, 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: "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 (USA) (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 Ford Foundation financed Counter-insurgency programs in Indonesia and other countries.

In 2003, The Ford Foundation was critiqued by pro-Israel U.S. news service Jewish Telegraphic Agency, among others, for supporting Palestinian NGOs that undertook anti-Zionist activities at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism and that were accused of anti-semitism. Under considerable duress 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, itself sparking protest among university provosts and various non-profit groups on free speech issues. [14]

In 2005, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox began a probe of the foundation. Though the Ford Foundation is headquartered in New York City, it is chartered in Michigan, giving the state some jurisdiction, although many foundations are chartered in states different from where they are headquartered. 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 considering its origins. Between 1998 and 2002, the Ford Foundation gave Michigan charities about $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 fully endorsed by Ford's board, and the trustees subsequently voted to move the foundation to New York in 1953. [15] Cox hoped that his probe would prod the foundation into giving more to Michigan charities, and indeed it was met with some success. [16] [17]


  • Edsel Ford (founder) 1936-1943
  • Henry Ford II 1943-1950
  • Paul G. Hoffman 1950-1953
  • H. Rowan Gaither 1953-1956
  • Henry T. Heald 1956-1965
  • McGeorge Bundy 1966-1979
  • Franklin Thomas 1979-1996
  • Susan V. Berresford 1996-2007
  • Luis Ubiñas 2008-



  1. "Financial Statement". Retrieved on 2007-05-13. 
  2. "2005 Annual Report". Retrieved on 2006-09-16. 
  3. Bak, Richard. Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire. 
  4. "". Retrieved on 2006-11-27. 
  5. "IMDB". Retrieved on 2006-11-27. 
  6. "Norwegian Nobel Committee". Retrieved on 2006-11-27. 
  7. "Foundation Center".;jsessionid=U151CBAPOPOULTQRSI4CGXD5AAAACI2F?id=141700002. Retrieved on 2006-11-27. 
  8. "Foundation Center". Retrieved on 2007-11-20. 
  9. "Ford Foundation Website". Retrieved on 2008-04-13. 
  10. "Ford Foundation Website". Retrieved on 2008-04-13. 
  11. "Ford Foundation Website". Retrieved on 2008-04-13. 
  12. [1]
  13. Mac Donald, Heather (2006-01-11). "Clinical, Cynical". Wall Street Journal. p. A14. Retrieved on 22 July 2006. 
  14. Sherman, Scott (2006-06-05). "Target Ford". The Nation. Retrieved on 17 October 2006. 
  15. "Ford Foundation web site". Retrieved on 19 November 2007. 
  16. Howes, Daniel (2006-04-02). "Ford Foundation probed; AG claims Mich. left out". Detroit News. Retrieved on 22 July 2006. 
  17. "Ford Foundation website press release". 2005-12-02. Retrieved on 19 November 2007. 
  18. "Ford Foundation Presidents". Ford Foundation. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 

Further reading

  • Frances Stonor Saunders (2001), The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, New Press, ISBN 1-56584-664-8. [Aka, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 1999, Granta (UK edition)].
  • Edward H Berman The Ideology of Philanthropy: The influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations on American foreign policy, State University of New York Press, 1983.
  • Yves Dezalay and Bryant G Garth, The Internationalization of Palace Wars
  • David Ransom, The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid, pub. 1975, pp. 93-116 "1970 Ford Foundation : Building an Elite for Indonesia".
  • Bob Feldman, "Alternative Media Censorship sponsored by CIA's Ford Foundation?"
  • "Target Ford" (2006), by Scott Sherman in The Nation.
  • Ford Foundation, a philanthropic facade for the CIA Voltaire Network, April 5, 2004.
  • Time for Ford Foundation & CFR to Divest? Collaboration of the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie Foundations with the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • The Ford Foundation and the CIA A 2001 study by James Petras.
  • Davi Napoleon. Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater The Ford Foundation gave the Chelsea Theater a grant in the early 1970s that enabled the theater to do groundbreaking multimedia work. The funding was abruptly halted after three years, an event that along with decreased funding from the National Endowment for the Arts helped percipitate the theater's collapse. This is a history that explores the onstage and backstage dramas at the Chelsea, with special attention to how theaters are funded.

See also

  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation
  • John J. McCloy
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • List of wealthiest foundations
  • MDRC research institute

External links

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