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Ford Foundation Working with Visionaries on the Frontlines of Social Change Worldwide

2010 Annual Report


President’s Message

Upholding our ambitions

For three-quarters of a century, the Ford Foundation has partnered with visionary organizations and individuals who have helped to transform the world.

Together we have worked to seed the green revolution, build the human rights movement and empower social entrepreneurs around the globe. In the United States, we worked to create Head Start, launch public broadcasting and build many of the civil rights organizations that today continue to fight for equality. Any accounting of the foundation’s illustrious history is inadequate, the accomplishments too numerous. Many of the ideas we advanced and the institutions we launched or supported were profoundly unconventional at the time; now, they are the very foundation of our public life.

What unites these efforts are the values of fairness and self-determination that have defined the Ford Foundation since our founding in 1936 by Edsel Ford. We were established at a time of great economic and social upheaval. Our nation was suffering through a profound and traumatic economic crisis; hints of war abounded; questions about citizenship, its meaning and who did and did not qualify were openly debated. But out of that tumult came an era of unprecedented individual and national growth, prosperity and freedom.

Our work today must aspire to no less. As we prepare the foundation for its next generation of impact, we know that there is much work yet to be done. We continue to face enormous obstacles to the cause of social justice. Our societies are contending with a trio of modern challenges not dissimilar from those of 75 years ago—globalization and its economic, political and cultural dislocations; a scarcity of natural resources that threatens to become even more acute; and technological change that brings people together but can also create division and inequality.

Far too often our hardest-working and most vulnerable citizens are being asked to shoulder these burdens alone. The commitment to Ford’s bedrock values demands that we reverse this trend. It demands that we provide support to those who work hard but are still living in poverty. It demands that we give voice to those who are not heard, counted or represented. And it demands that we throw open the doors of opportunity so that all individuals can make the most of their human potential. These are issues not merely of social justice but of basic fairness.

Moving forward on these fronts is more vital than ever, particularly as the financial gap—and the opportunity gap—between the rich and the poor is growing wider. Too many voices today are silenced or ignored by their leaders; too many economic, technological and social opportunities are closed off and restricted to the wealthy few; and too many public institutions are impenetrable and closed to scrutiny. In the United States, the sense of union and shared purpose that has been at the core of our national progress is being lost.

We believe that meeting the challenges of these times requires that we take the kinds of risks that are the distinguished legacy of this foundation. It also requires that we advance programs and initiatives that have the potential to be transformative, even when the approach is new and unproven. After all, risk and challenge are more than just the privilege of philanthropy—they are its responsibility.

We pursue these aspirations, as we always have, in deep engagement with a range of partners, led by our grantees. In this report you will meet some of our most visionary social innovators. In honor of our 75th year, we are recognizing 12 remarkable leaders with a one-time Ford Foundation Visionaries Award. These change makers have brought breakthrough insights to some of our most challenging social problems. They are thinkers who make change happen and who pursue their vision with determination and an unstinting focus on impact.

Here in the United States and around the world, they are making markets work for the poor; expanding community ownership over natural resources; unleashing the opportunities for free expression; democratizing the global financial system; increasing citizen engagement in democratic processes; and fulfilling the promise of technological possibility. These innovations address some of the greatest social challenges of the 21st century, and they reflect the full scale of our ambitions.

The challenges before us are clear. But if the past 75 years have taught us anything, it is that we, together with our grantees and partners, have the ability to make the enduring vision of transformative social change a reality. Making progress is not the work of days, months or years—it is the work of generations.

Luis A. Ubiñas President


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