The Ford Foundation established its office in New Delhi in 1952, at the invitation of the Government of India. Since inception, we have partnered with the country to meet key development priorities and aspirations.
In the early decades post Independence, the foundation prioritized support for setting up the country’s leading research, academic, and professional management institutions. This included foundational grants to the Indian Institutes of Management at Ahmedabad, Calcutta and Bangalore as well as early support to the Indian Law Institute and the National Institute of Design.
The foundation also provided early support for research to the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, and foundational support to the Indian Institute of Public Administration and the Punjab Agricultural University. Additionally, in partnership with other philanthropic foundations and the Indian Government, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics was instituted. Collectively, these institutions have trained a large and diverse community of engineers, business professionals, legal experts, scientists, researchers, and civil servants.
We have also supported many of India’s flagship socio-economic development initiatives like the Community Development program in the 1950s, the Intensive Agricultural Districts Program, and the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s as well as the self-help group movement.
In the 1960s, the first of its time, investments in healthcare were made when the foundation’s consultants visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to develop grants to involve top Indian scientists in the national family planning movement.
During the 1970s, incidentally declared as the United Nations’ Decade of Women, we worked towards grants that focused on highlighting the key roles that women played in the Indian workforce, the disadvantages they faced in work, and ways to incorporate those from lower-income backgrounds into economic development programs. This led to the establishment of institutes specializing in women’s and gender studies, such as the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, which opened in 1980 with the foundation’s support. Over time, more of these institutes emerged nationwide, while others added departments of Women’s Studies to their curriculum.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, we contributed to community-led initiatives, grassroots development, protecting forest communities, and a continued focus on transforming the rural economy and livelihoods. The Ford Foundation has also supported the preservation of Indian heritage through theatrical and performing arts, including. archiving previously lost works by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray, recording century-old folk songs by the Manganiyars of Rajasthan, and preserving traditional performance arts through organizations like SPIC MACAY.
In the early 2000s, we emphasized our commitment to inclusive education. The International Fellowships Program, established in 2001, supported advanced studies in leading international institutions for over 300 fellows from diverse backgrounds and regions from India. Since the launch of the program, over 80% of its young leaders have returned to their communities after their studies, pushing for equity and holding leadership roles in business, civil society, and government.
Around this time, the foundation started focusing on India’s small and marginal farmers in rainfed areas struggling with high input costs and limited access to irrigation systems, partnering with a network of grassroots organizations to revitalize rainfed agriculture. Today, after two decades of support, programs, and networks focusing on sustainable, natural farming methods are thriving and aligned with the goals of the Government of India, especially the Ministry of Agriculture’s Millet Mission and its initiative on regenerative agriculture.
Inclusive and women-led development continues to be central to our work, especially ensuring safe spaces for women and girls on- and offline, removing barriers to labor force participation, advancing education, and participating meaningfully in public life. We aim to aid them in accessing government schemes, understanding laws that protect them, and securing redressal.
As the Ford Foundation’s role in India evolves, our commitment to the region’s development priorities—and our partnership with the people of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—continues to grow.