A global foundation

The Ford Foundation’s commitment to mutual understanding between China and the United States began in the 1960s, with support for the development of the field of Chinese studies in the United States. In 1979, with the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the US, we began a program of direct funding for academic and professional exchanges between institutions in China and their counterparts in the US. In 1988, the foundation opened its office in Beijing with the support of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

Aligned with China’s policy of “opening up and reform,” the foundation worked with Chinese academic institutions to strengthen the disciplines of international relations, economics, and law beginning in the mid-1980s. As needs and priorities identified by Chinese partners evolved, we added two programs in 1989 and 1990, in environment and development and in reproductive health. Our work in the field of education was introduced in 2001. Growing from these roots, our efforts now focus on supporting innovative institutions and individuals to work for a society that is more inclusive and harmonious. We also seek to share best practices with China’s emerging indigenous philanthropy sector to mobilize more resources in the service of social development.

In support of this work and consistent with Chinese priorities, as of 2015 the Ford Foundation has made grants totaling more than $356 million in China. Decisions pertaining to grantmaking in China are made by Elizabeth Knup, who leads the foundation’s work in China from our office in Beijing.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation was established in 1936, with an initial gift of $25,000 from Edsel Ford, whose father, Henry, founded the Ford Motor Company. When Edsel and Henry died in the mid-1940s, they left an additional $250,000 worth of Ford Motor stock to the foundation—creating the largest philanthropy in the world. Through prudent investment, this original endowment has grown to some $16 billion today. We have not raised any additional funds since the 1940s.

From 1936 to 1974, the foundation operated in Michigan under the leadership of Ford family members, using foundation resources for "scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare.” By 1974, the foundation had sold all its Ford Motor Company stock and no Ford family members were affiliated with the foundation. Since then, the foundation has been an independent, private organization.

In the 1940s the foundation commissioned a group of advisers to help determine how it could best serve society. The findings were published in 1950, in what became known as the Gaither Report. The report recommended that Ford become a worldwide philanthropy focused on solving humankind’s most pressing problems across multiple fields. In 1952, the foundation opened an office in India—its first outside the US. The following year, Ford moved its headquarters to New York City, a strategic location for the expanded international work. Over the next several decades, the foundation opened offices in many countries around the world. Today, we have offices in 10 countries, including the United States.