Ford Foundation
Social Investing

Unlocking new capital to invest in social enterprises

“With our social investments, we take risks that others can’t, so worthwhile projects can move forward.”
Christine Looney, Senior Program Investment Officer


When tackling complex social problems, a well-timed loan or investment can be a tremendously useful tool for philanthropy. Since 1968, when Ford pioneered the use of program-related investments (PRIs), we have set aside a small portion of our endowment to supply capital to help finance critical projects, test new business models and develop sustainable organizations.


With $220 million invested currently, we strive to be diligent yet flexible in choosing the right instrument for the job: a loan guarantee encourages commercial lenders to finance new units of affordable housing; an early investment seeds a fund whose lending supports small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. For 45 years, social investing has enabled us to use our assets boldly when the opportunity for social gain is very great.

Learn more about our Program-Related Investment strategy.
in cumulative investments to almost 400 projects
Video: How Program-Related Investing Works
Social Investing
Ford Fellows

Advancing equality in higher education

“Ford Fellows pursue their studies and then go on to lead, mentor and transform their communities.”
Douglas Wood, Program Officer


Recognizing that the U.S. needs diverse colleges and universities to achieve equity and opportunity for all Americans, the foundation established a fellowship program in the 1960s to provide scholarship support to minority undergraduates. The focus soon shifted to graduate education, which continues through today, in our ongoing support of scholars who see diversity as a path to enriching the education of all students.


The program has grown into one of the world’s most recognized fellowship initiatives, having nurtured generations of distinguished scholars. This past year, we renewed our commitment with $100 million over the next decade—enabling us to build an ever-larger community of educators who can take up the cause of social justice in their institutions.

Learn more about our Higher Education for Social Justice initiative.
universities have had at least one graduate student receive a Ford Foundation fellowship

Multiplying Impact through Service

Fellows are active in public service and community life.

serve on university committees lead professional associations advise national, state or local government
Video: Ford Fellows at 50
Ford Fellows
Global Human Rights

Upholding human rights in a changing world

“We want to ensure that the issues affecting the most marginalized are at the top of the human rights agenda.”
Martín Abregú, Director


Dynamic global trends—including the rising influence of national powers in the Global South and the wide reach of new communications technologies—are changing the environment for human rights policy and advocacy. In collaboration with leading human rights organizations, we are working to develop a new architecture for the movement that matches today’s more globalized era. For the first phase of this effort, we are supporting seven outstanding human rights groups based in South America, Africa and Asia.


These seven groups have begun to forge a more powerfully connected network of human rights defenders at a time when solutions from the Global South will have increasing currency. While their work together is just beginning, we believe their voices, amplified within a truly global conversation, will profoundly influence the future of human rights.

Learn more about our Strengthening Human Rights Worldwide initiative.

Strengthening and Diversifying the Movement

Visionary, effective international organizations strengthen the movement.   Human rights leaders from the Global South invigorate and diversify it.
Interactive: New Challenges, New Strategies
Global Human Rights
Next-Generation Workforce

Strengthening our economy by promoting job quality and security

“Worker centers are giving low-wage earners the tools they need to speak out, move up and get ahead.”
Laine Romero-Alston, Program Officer


Today, many workers—especially minorities, immigrants and women—are trapped in jobs offering low pay, little security and few opportunities to advance. Worker centers address these challenges by offering a mix of services, from legal assistance to career-oriented classes and training. Often focused on particular sectors—construction day laborers, restaurant workers, caregivers for the elderly—they enable workers to raise a united voice for fairness.


Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, a Ford grantee, is a powerful example of what these centers can accomplish. Founded in New York City in 2001, ROC United has grown into a national network, 10,000 members strong. In 26 cities across 23 states, they are challenging unfair practices and helping members gain skills that let them move up the ladder to better paid, more secure jobs. Together, these efforts are opening opportunities and advancing self-sufficiency for workers.

Learn more about our Promoting the Next-Generation Workforce Strategies initiative.

Making Fairness an Industry Standard

Together, ROC members and their allies are putting better conditions on the menu for American restaurants.

Video: Training for the Future
Next-Generation Workforce

Championing films that inspire social change

“Social justice films are ultimately about people—and that’s why they move us.”
Orlando Bagwell, Program Officer


Visual narratives can tell meaningful stories that ignite imagination, build understanding and encourage an explicit response to the complexity of human experience. Through JustFilms, we provide filmmakers and media artists with crucial support—not just funding, but also deep knowledge of social justice issues, storytelling expertise and access to networks for distributing and promoting their work. And our partnerships, with the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals and the ITVS and PBS broadcast networks, among others, help us reach larger audiences.


The 75 films produced with support from JustFilms bring critical social issues to viewers from diverse backgrounds, creating new communities built around a passion for social change. The stories cover truthful topics that reflect the breadth of the foundation’s mission—from economic opportunity to freedom of expression, from Delhi to Detroit.

Learn more about our JustFilms initiative.

produced with JustFilms support were selected for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Video: JustFilms at Sundance 2013
Immigrant Rights

Supporting a movement of dreamers

“Courageous young people expressing American values of freedom and fairness—that’s how this started.”
Mayra Peters-Quintero, Program Officer


In 2008, a fledgling group of young immigrant leaders approached the National Immigration Law Center, a Ford Grantee, with the idea of starting a new organization—one that could build a unified voice for youth within the immigration debate. Taking their name from the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would permit certain young immigrants who have grown up in the U.S. to obtain legal status, they decided to form the United We Dream network.


The network has mobilized hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” as the young people who would benefit from the act became known. In June 2012, they won a major victory when President Obama established a policy that enables many young people to apply for “deferred action,” thus lifting the risk of deportation and authorizing them to work legally. Now, these young people are advocating on behalf of their families for an immigration system worthy of their adopted home.

Learn more about our Protecting Immigrant and Migrant Rights initiative.
The United We Dream network has grown rapidly, from seven affiliate groups in 2008 to 52 today. 7 52
Video: A Dreamer’s Story
Immigrant Rights

Building second-generation microfinance to serve the world’s poor

“These groundbreaking new standards give microfinance institutions the tools to measure the social value of their work.”
Frank DeGiovanni, Director


In recent years, many in the microfinance field have grown concerned about whether microfinance organizations are paying sufficient attention to their social goals and to serving poor clients well. In 2005, the Ford Foundation and a group of leaders formed a working group, the Social Performance Task Force, that brought together a range of constituencies to create voluntary guidelines for measuring social and financial performance, the “double bottom line.”


The Universal Standards for Social Performance Management were released in June 2012, with input received from more than 40 countries. The standards provide a framework that each double-bottom-line organization can use to define its own distinct objectives and intended outcomes. For investors and donors, the standards will help measure the overall social value of microfinance. Most important, the standards should help poor people obtain the financial services they need to build better lives.

Learn more about our Improving Access to Financial Services initiative.

Measuring Progress and Performance

The Universal Standards for Social Performance Management help microfinance institutions benchmark their work in six key areas.


Creating more vibrant communities through the arts

“Creative placemaking is reshaping how we think about arts and revitalization.”
Roberta Uno, Senior Program Officer


One of the most effective ways to revitalize communities is through “creative placemaking,” an arts-based approach that focuses on community engagement and is today being embraced by a newly formed coalition called ArtPlace. Made up of foundations, banks and federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace is supporting revitalization projects throughout the U.S.


The first round of ArtPlace projects was announced only two years ago, but the progress has been striking. From the development of artists’ live/work spaces in a Cleveland neighborhood hit hard by foreclosures to the creation of an “outdoor living room” where people can gather in downtown San Jose, ArtPlace projects are mixing arts and revitalization and creating real opportunity. ArtPlace has also developed a system for measuring community vibrancy, which will deepen our understanding of how livable, prosperous localities are formed.

Learn more about our Supporting Diverse Arts Spaces initiative.

The Artplace Collaborative

13 Foundations are providing grant dollars to support revitalization.
8 Federal Agencies are helping to coordinate regional and local efforts.
6 Banks are financing a loan fund to jump-start development.
Democratic Participation

Fulfilling the promise of democracy worldwide

“To achieve a truly representative government, everyone’s voice must be heard at the ballot box.”
Cristóbal Alex, Program Officer


Free and fair elections are fundamental to democracy. In partnership with nonpartisan civil society organizations around the world, we work to improve and defend the electoral process and promote broad voter participation, especially among people who have historically been left out.


In the past year, our partners made significant contributions to national elections in the United States, Kenya and elsewhere. In the U.S., an on-the-ground network educated voters, protected their rights and turned back attempts to suppress the vote. In Kenya, a coalition of Ford grantee organizations known as Tuvuke collaborated in the months before the March 2013 election to mobilize citizens to participate as both voters and ambassadors for a fair and peaceful process.

Learn more about our Promoting Electoral Reform and Democratic Participation initiative.

Defending Americans’ Right to Vote

Our grantees successfully challenged voter suppression efforts in 11 states. They also worked to ensure bilingual ballot access in three states.
Slideshow: Kenyans Vote in 2013
Democratic Participation