Ford Foundation Program Helped Advance Social Justice, Study Finds

A $420 million Ford Foundation program that funded the advanced education of social justice leaders from marginalized groups led to significant positive change in communities and organizations around the world, a report from the Institute of International Education finds.

The report, Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impact of Higher Education (36 pages, PDF), evaluated the impact of the foundation's International Fellowships Program, which, with the goal of giving emerging leaders the tools to succeed in their studies and improve conditions in their communities upon returning home, supported graduate-level education for more than forty-three hundred emerging social justice leaders from twenty-two countries between 2001 and 2013. Based on responses from nearly two thousand IFP alumni, the report found that 87 percent indicated the program enhanced their leadership skills, while 79 percent now hold senior leadership roles, many as founders of grassroots organizations and  leaders in national governments and international NGOs. More than nine hundred alumni have created programs and organizations that have reached an estimated 9.5 million adults and children in their countries and 860,000 others globally. Of these initiatives, 97 percent address social issues or provide community services and 48 percent were created by women.

The evaluation also found that investing in emerging leaders who are committed to driving social change locally helps avert brain drain, with 84 percent of IFP alumni currently living in their home country, nearly 7 percent saying they serve as role models in their communities, and 63 percent reporting that they have been consulted when their community is advocating for social justice. In addition, 84 percent of respondents reported making improvements in the organizations where they work or volunteer as a result of the fellowship.

"As governments everywhere search for ways to educate and tap the talent of more citizens, the results of the International Fellowships Program offer practical, real-world lessons, especially in helping people from rural and marginalized communities find a place in higher education," said Hilary Pennington, Ford's vice president for education, creativity, and free expression. "This landmark study shows that investing in a more inclusive approach to higher education can create global leaders, and as a result, help change the world."