In a blog post published over the weekend, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, announced that the foundation's two-year transition period is over and shared a number of "major" decisions tied to the foundation's new focus on combating inequality.
"Addressing inequality requires a more nuanced understanding of how it operates," wrote Walker on the foundation's website. "We are continuously striving to see its workings as both global and local, immediate and long term, affecting people's lives as well as distorting the systems it infects."
To that end, Walker added, the foundation has reduced the number of its initiatives over the last two years from thirty-five to fifteen concentrated in seven areas: civic engagement and government; gender, racial, and ethnic justice; equitable development; inclusive economies; Internet freedom; youth opportunity and learning; and creativity and free expression. Walker also explained that the foundation is working to break down silos in its work and, as part of that effort, will create interdisciplinary teams staffed by program officers with flexible assignments and will engage in more collaboration in the spirit of the Detroit Grand Bargain, NetGain, and the foundation's new impact investing partnerships.
To maximize the resources available to it, the foundation will discontinue its support in several areas, including some such as LGBT rights in the United States, direct cash transfers in Latin America, and microfinance where it had seen measurable progress over the years. Walker also said the foundation will be awarding fewer grants — reducing the number awarded by as much as 20 percent over the next two years.
At the same time, the foundation will continue to invest in what Walker described as the "Three 'I's" — groundbreaking ideas, leading individuals, and institutions and networks — and, initially, will prioritize institution building, dedicating $1 billion over the next five years to those efforts through its BUILD program.
To address the ongoing problem of nonprofits being expected to operate on shoestring budgets, the foundation plans to double its overhead rate on project grants to 20 percent. Walker also pledged to address one of the other "elephants in the room at most large foundations," endowment investment policies, by promulgating a specific impact investing policy in the coming months that would be taken up "responsibly, thoughtfully, and based on evidence."
Walker acknowledged that there are numerous ways to reduce inequality and told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that the foundation remains committed to exploring various program areas, even if they have been dropped from the foundation's new strategy. The goal, he said, is to ensure that everyone benefits from wealth forged in the marketplace. "The kind of capitalism we want is the kind that promotes prosperity," he told the Chronicle. "Philanthropy can contribute to that."