Tapping the power of strategic communications

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and Alfred Ironside, Ford’s vice president for Global Communications, share a byline on the final installment of the Communications Network’s Making Ideas Move series on the power and potential of social sector communications, produced in partnership with Stanford Social Innovation Review. Foundations, the authors say, "have the unique opportunity to communicate uncomfortable truths to entrenched power.” They continue: “But sometimes we … leave unleveraged opportunities for communication on the table.” They outline “three things" foundations "can do more of, locally or globally,” to amplify their voice and magnify their impact.

Published in the Standford Social Innovation Review | April 2, 2015
Express yourself
By Darren Walker and Alfred Ironside


With great interest and admiration, we have read and reflected on our esteemed colleagues’ contributions to this series about the role of strategic communications in driving social change. We are delighted to participate in the conversation.

While many have written insightfully about what we can do if we embrace strategic communications, we would like to talk about why these communications are so important and how we can use them to help create real, enduring change.

When the two of us took on our new roles at the Ford Foundation, the president of a major university told Darren that he appreciated the way we were raising our voice on the issue of growing inequality in America. “You've got an independence to speak out on issues that university presidents don't have anymore,” this person said. “I've got a capital campaign to worry about and can’t afford to offend my donors.”

It rings true. As financial pressures, market-oriented thinking, and short-termism take an ever stronger hold of so many sectors in our society—including the university and arts sectors, and even the public sector—foundations are privileged to enjoy a kind of independence.

Now more than ever we have the unique opportunity to communicate uncomfortable truths to entrenched power, including our very own sector.

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The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.