Message from the president
A legacy of transformation
“The pace of our progress speaks to the remarkable partnership between our grantees and staff, who every day demonstrate exceptional talent and deep commitment to the institution’s values, goals and mission.”
The history of the Ford Foundation is rooted in the idea of transformation, the belief that individuals, organizations or even entire societies can fundamentally change in order to alter the trajectory of the world we live in. Many of the great advances of our times—human rights, civil rights, early childhood education, the green revolution, microfinance—have transformed lives, nations and the world.
When I was asked to serve as president of the Ford Foundation in 2007, I spoke to hundreds of social change makers before starting my tenure. Overwhelmingly, they posed the same questions. Could the foundation redesign its programs to reflect the challenge of a time that had grown far more complex, tailor its operations to reflect this era of new technology and its resulting pace, and adjust its economics to accommodate a prolonged economic crisis?
Since then, the foundation has travelled far in pursuit of answers to those questions, making the journey to become a philanthropy defined by aspirational institutional goals, strategies for achieving those goals, and the resources and staff required to make those strategies real. The foundation has also rebuilt its operations to take advantage of new technologies and to adjust to the worldwide economic crisis. Given the time frame of our work, we will not know the full impact of these actions for many decades, but I can say with certainty that our grantees are already making profound contributions in the lives of individuals, communities and societies.
The pace of our progress has been the greatest surprise of my time at the foundation. It speaks to the remarkable partnership between our grantees and staff, who every day demonstrate exceptional talent and deep commitment to the institution’s values, goals and mission. Every one of our 34 initiatives is grounded in the idea that each of us has the right to live in a just society, one in which every individual is afforded the opportunity to contribute to the maximum of his or her ability, and that such full participation benefits everyone in that society.
The progress made in India by our Girls Not Brides initiative, in Africa by our electoral participation program and here in the United States in our work across nine states to change how social safety net benefits are delivered—among many other examples—has reinforced my belief in the possible.
If you witness the collaboration among banks and government leaders across Latin America to bring millions of unbanked people into the financial mainstream by transforming how social conditional cash transfer payments are delivered, you see enormous change on the horizon.
“It is hard for me to express adequately the deep respect and admiration I hold for our grantees. They not only see a better world, but work for it every day with intelligence, courage, creativity and passion.”
In the Global South you can follow the cadre of incredibly accomplished but still-growing organizations as they expand their role in the international human rights movement and demonstrate how to respond meaningfully to a changing world.
Here in the United States, you can now go to thousands of schools and observe expanded learning time—an innovative way to give students in high-poverty districts the time they need to succeed in the classroom and compete in a global economy.
The progress being achieved by our grantees has been inspiring. This report shares some of the important results we see emerging from their efforts, and I encourage you to learn more on our website. Their commitment and achievements have motivated a second set of activities that have defined my service at Ford, our own internal change. Our mission called on us to adjust our operations in response to this challenging time. Through a comprehensive operational and cost restructuring, we succeeded in permanently shifting more than $25 million from internal operations to external grant making. Along with that operating restructuring came the reinvestment of over 80 percent of our $11 billion endowment, an effort which has already yielded over $1 billion in added returns.
The resources freed and created allowed us to expand rather than contract our aspirations during this relentless economic crisis. A grant budget we feared in 2008 would fall below $350 million never fell below $400 million and is poised to approach $500 million in the coming year. Our facilities around the world have become convening centers for leading nonprofits and social change organizations. And while our restructuring has had profound benefits for our programs and our grantees, the foundation itself has, through hard choices, learned a valuable and lasting lesson about its own capacity and responsibility to adjust in the face of adversity and opportunity.
Together we have traversed a time of profound transformation, and the foundation has emerged stronger. Now it is time for another change. This year will be my last at the Ford Foundation. One of the hardest things for a leader to know is when to pass the baton. After all that we have accomplished together, both in the world and at the foundation, that moment has come for me.
In signing my sixth and final annual letter, it is hard for me to express adequately the deep respect and admiration I hold for our staff, our trustees and especially our grantees. They are the true visionaries who not only see a better world but who work for it every day with intelligence, courage, creativity and passion. Through the experiences I have shared with them—working on critical issues in troubled places and under challenging circumstances—I have found myself changed in ways I could not have expected and for which I am deeply grateful.
I want to thank our board of trustees in particular. They have been there with us every step of the way. Together we have learned that an organization as large and ambitious as we are can respond with urgency and agility. We have learned that across the world the unmet desire for social justice runs so deep in our societies that meaningful progress can be made. And we have learned that, no matter the challenges of our era, we have a duty to serve, as best we can, those on the frontlines of the necessary, enduring and irrepressible quest for human dignity.
It has been with great honor and gratitude that I have served the Ford Foundation. Ford’s transformative work has touched my life as profoundly as it has touched millions across the world.
Luis A. Ubiñas, President