Mission: To strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international co-operation and advance human achievement.
One of America’s largest private foundations, this was established in 1936 by the family of Henry Ford (1863-1947), the famed industrialist who pioneered mass production of automobiles. At first the foundation mainly supported philanthropic activities in Ford’s home state, Michigan, but in 1950 it inherited the bulk of his private wealth and established a global headquarters in New York. An independent board of trustees manages the foundation’s affairs and it no longer has any connection with the Ford Motor Company.
From the 1960s, the foundation was associated with liberal causes in the United States, making grants to civil rights and environmental activist groups, public interest lawyers and public broadcasting networks. Inner-city community action projects were another major theme of the foundation’s grant-making in America. A large part of the Ford foundation’s income is spent on overseas programmes overseen by 12 regional offices in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Russia.
From the early 1980s, the foundation supported China studies programmes in American universities, and then began to work with Chinese universities to develop Economics and Law faculties. In 1988, under a special agreement with the State Council, it became the first international non-government organisation to establish an office in Beijing, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences acting as a local counterpart. From that time, grant-making was concentrated in four main fields, each overseen by a specialist Program Officer: legal system reform; reproductive health; environment and development, and economic reform and its social impacts. The latter programme has since shifted its emphasis to governance and public policy, and a new portfolio in education and culture was added in 2002. In addition, the foundation has ongoing, subsidiary programmes in international relations, civil society, and economics and development finance. It treats gender equity, support for civil society and a focus on poor and disadvantaged groups as a ‘cross-cutting themes’ of its work.
Grants are made to both government and non-government agencies to support substantive social policy research, capacity building and pilot projects. For fifteen years Ford’s programme has been the largest of its kind in China making it impossible to catalogue in so short a space, but notable activities have included: strengthening teaching and research capacity in Economics, International Relations, Law, Gender Studies and Development Studies; support for a number of research centres, think tanks and NGOs working on social, agricultural and environmental policy and legal reform; the introduction (especially in Southwest China) of participatory approaches in natural resource management and poverty alleviation; support for a cluster of pioneering public interest law centres; stimulation of research and policy debate around issues of urban-rural migration; cooperation with government to develop quality family planning and reproductive health services; support for a wide range of groups working on reproductive health rights, and for agencies developing appropriate responses to the challenge of HIV/AIDS.
In addition, an international fellowship programme provides postgraduate study opportunities for around forty people each year from China’s less developed areas.
By early 2021, Ford Foundation outlined four integrated approaches to their work in China. This includes capacity building for Chinese institutions, corporations and political actors to promote equity. Given China’s growing impact in the Global South, Ford Foundation is supporting countries in the Global South to better connect and cooperate with China through the BUILD initiative. Ford Foundation is also advocating for “impact investing” for financial actors in China. Finally, recognizing emerging challenges in US-China relations, Ford Foundation supports a more constructive framework of US-China relationship. As of January 2021, Ford Foundation has an annual budget of $13 million and 80 guarantees for its projects in China.