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New York, USA

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Summary Description

The Ford Foundation’s Civic Engagement and Government (CEG) thematic area seeks a thoughtful, curious and engaged Program Officer to help shape and drive the foundation’s social justice work in the United States. The Program Officer should have proven experience and knowledge in civic engagement and public participation – in particular inclusive democracy and voting rights – and will offer this perspective to support the CEG thematic area strategy and grantmaking, the CEG team and the broader social justice goals of the foundation.


Addressing inequality is a key focus of the Ford Foundation. The overall goal of the CEG thematic area is to make civic engagement more powerful and strategic and government more representative, responsive and accountable. The Foundation strives to achieve this by working with critical stakeholders and partners in government, civil society, academia, private sector and funders to expand participation, promote equitable resource governance, and build powerful engagement with government.

The Program Officer will particularly inform work on expanding democratic participation—promoting increased and greater representation in elections and shape agendas to reflect the public interest. In collaboration with the Director and team members, the Program Officer will develop a body of work primarily focused on promoting voting rights and other aspects of inclusive non-partisan democratic practice in the United States, that address underlying structural drivers and rules of the game, and seek longer term, more durable change (rather than tactical gains in particular electoral cycles). Opportunities to be addressed may include promoting government’s role in registering voters, strategic litigation, increasing participation and debate in primaries, and developing pathways that connect voting with issues that people care about. The Program Officer will also contribute to CEG efforts that seek to democratize the role of money in politics; and develop, test and demonstrate models of powerful civic engagement with government that build strategic civic capability, achieve policy outcomes, help make government more responsive, and over time contribute to increased trust in government.

The Program Officer will work under the direct supervision of the Director of Civic Engagement and Government, and be part of the CEG team. The Program Officer will assess the CEG field, identify key ecosystems and work with various actors and other funders to analyze challenges and opportunities, seek rigorous evidence about program effectiveness, identify levers of change, and play a leading role in shaping specific grant activities. The Program Officer will share substantive knowledge with Foundation colleagues; collaborate broadly across CEG and other thematic areas; serve as a ‘connector’ of grantees, promote thoughtful learning; and work with practitioners, government officials, scholars, NGOs, other donors and corporate sector leaders on issue of common concern to leverage positive impact toward common goals.

Program Officer's Core Responsibilities

Reporting to the CEG Director and working with a multidisciplinary team of Program Officers, the Program Officer will:

  • Work collaboratively with other team members to develop, define and implement program strategies to achieve significant and scalable impact toward team goals.
  • Continually scan the fields related to democracy in the US (and other places from which one can learn lessons for the US context), follow key development and debates, keep abreast of the academic and popular literature, share key findings and lessons among colleagues and the field.
  • Develop grant making activities in a team-oriented context, with a ‘grantee-in-the-driver’s-seat’ orientation, that are aligned to the strategic goals of a thematic area and support a connected ‘eco-system’ of work where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Promote engagement with grantees to review opportunities, challenges and advances and encourage collaboration, learning, exchange and strategic partnerships.
  • Manage, monitor and coordinate a grants portfolio, including: long-term grant planning; identifying and working with prospective grantees to develop proposals for grant recommendations (including helping determine the goals for a grant, its activities, expected results, indicators of success and budget); conducting organizational assessments; undertaking periodic reviews of progress with grantees; and reviewing financial and narrative reports.
  • Promote and participate in fostering open-mindedness and a culture of learning – including learning and evaluation activities to guide the evolution of programmatic work – seeking to continually ask hard questions, gather independent and rigorous data and evidence about effectiveness of the foundation and grantees’ strategies, and help adapt practice as needed.
  • Represent the Foundation and its work to the government, media, academic, business, philanthropic, and civic leaders through meetings, updates, speeches, blogposts, briefings and interviews, with guidance from the CEG Thematic Director.
  • Develop and implement grant-making approaches that support the use of strategic communications as part of the program strategy.
  • Contribute to the thinking and work of colleagues in the CEG team and foundation overall.
  • Qualifications
    • A minimum of 8 years leading social justice strategies and/or subject-matter expertise related to Civic Engagement and Government, in particular the promotion of inclusive democratic practice and voter participation in the U.S.
    • Deep understanding of the U.S. democracy field, context and cultures
    • Understanding of comparative perspectives on political systems is preferred
    • Expertise on systemic or structural factors restricting and remedies expanding voting rights as well as strategies to link social movements to enhance civic engagement
    • An open, flexible and curious mind
    • Written and oral fluency in English (required) and Spanish (preferred)
    • Exceptional communications skills – strong active listening skills, constructive verbal and written skills, strong public presentation skills
    • Demonstrated ability to be a productive member of a community of people at work, respecting differences while working toward shared goals, comfort with periods of ambiguity, constructive participation in ongoing organizational development
    • A master’s degree in relevant field of study or an equivalent experience is preferred
    Alignment to the Mission and the Culture of the Ford Foundation
  • Commitment to the Foundation’s mission and core values of equity, fairness and diversity
  • Personal qualities of humility, capacity for self-reflection, and a sense of humor
  • Discretion and ability to handle confidential issues
  • Action-oriented and entrepreneurial self-starter who can work well independently and in teams