Learning

The Ford Foundation believes in embracing risk and reflecting honestly on our accomplishments as well as our disappointments. That’s why we’re committed to building and sustaining a culture of learning.

—Darren Walker, President

We are always learning

Our leadership and program staff come from the fields we work in, bringing their energy and seasoned insight to our issues. Committed to excellence, they care deeply about ensuring that the foundation’s investments are meaningful and effective. But our expertise is just a starting point.

We learn by doing

We take a long-term approach to social change, targeting the root causes of problems as well as their symptoms. And so we learn from everything we do: from individual grants; from series of grants; from grant making within a field, across the foundation, and around the world. We listen closely to our grantees—attentive to both their progress and any obstacles they’re facing—and together with them make choices about how to move forward. We know that tackling complex challenges posed by injustice and inequality means being willing to reexamine what we thought we knew.

We reflect on our progress and make adjustments

In concert with the organizations we support and a broad community of social change makers, we are engaged in a continuous, deliberate process of improvement and growth. By nature, our work is difficult to evaluate: In many cases, assessments of our efforts can’t tell us whether our larger goals have been achieved but only whether we are on the right path to realizing them. Our results-reporting and evaluation processes aren’t simply ways for us to delineate successes and failures; they also are a means for us to examine our motivations and draw lessons from our work.

We learn by collaborating

We try new things. We experiment. We stay true to our mission but leave room to explore and support promising new areas. And we seek out experts to challenge our thinking. We want to learn not just from leaders in the fields where we already work but also from those in areas where we might have less experience. We look to our peers and partners for insight, and we listen to their experiences. By working collaboratively within the foundation and across sectors, we’re able to better understand and anticipate the needs of the people our work is meant to serve.

 

 

We share what we learn

We’re always searching for new and more effective ways to communicate our ideas and insights, and we seek out opportunities to hear from our colleagues in the nonprofit and philanthropic communities. Over the years we’ve published reports, organized convenings, created interactive explainers, and invited academics to delve into our archives. All this will continue as we explore fresh ways to impart our latest knowledge and ideas. We hope our learning will strengthen the impact of not just the Ford Foundation but philanthropy as a whole.

 

 

Early Lessons from Large-Scale Implementations of the Graduation Approach

We commissioned case studies of three governments and one large NGO that are scaling the Graduation Approach within their ongoing programs. We hope that the lessons provided by the case studies and companion analysis encourage other governments and NGOs to adopt, adapt, and scale an approach that works.

International Fellowship Program

Exploring alumni accomplishments and analyzing impact.

Under this pioneering program, more than 4,300 social change leaders from the world’s most vulnerable populations earned advanced degrees. Now that the program has concluded, the IFP Alumni Tracking Study gives us a chance to explore how higher education, and IFP specifically, affects the lives of its fellows as well as the countries in which they live and work.