Ford Foundation celebrates 50 years in West Africa

LAGOS, Nigeria — The Ford Foundation today marked 50 years of work in Nigeria and West Africa by opening a new building and announcing $1 million in special awards that will help build a healthy and vibrant future for the region.

Ford Foundation President Luis A. Ubiñas hosted Nigerian President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Lagos State Governor Mr. Babatunde Raji Fasola, and other dignitaries at the opening of a facility that will house the foundation's West African grant-making operations and host conferences, grantee meetings and events.

"We envision a future—a near future, not a distant future—in which West Africans and their governments use the region's extraordinary human and natural resources for the common good, a future in which all people have the opportunity to achieve their full potential," said Ubiñas. "We hope that this new home will be a place where our partners come together to create that bright future for all of West Africa's people."

Ford opened its doors in Nigeria in 1960 but did not have a permanent address until now. Since making its first grant in the region in 1958, Ford has invested nearly $285 million to support visionary people across West Africa who are focused on strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, expanding higher education, building economic opportunity, and cultivating arts and culture.

"Our support for innovative leaders in the region goes well beyond the grants we make," said Adhiambo Odaga, Ford Foundation representative for West Africa. "It also comes to life in the conversations we host, the conferences we sponsor, and the networks of creativity and innovation that we support. With this building, we have sought to create a space that is as open and transparent as the work in which we're engaged—where ideas are shared, relationships are formed and trust is built."

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place before 150 invited guests and dignitaries, including senior representatives of federal and state government, grantee organizations, academic institutions and other key partners. President Jonathan unveiled a plaque commemorating the building's commissioning as part of Nigeria's Jubilee celebrations. The new home cost approximately $3.5 million.

Ubiñas also announced $1 million for a series of special awards to recognize outstanding initiatives that promote transparency, good governance and integrity in Nigeria. The Jubilee Transparency Awards will be given throughout the year and selected by a panel of respected civil leaders based on an open competition. Up to 10 awardees will win at least $100,000 each.

"These awards reflect our commitment to ensuring a healthy and vibrant future for this region," Ubiñas said. "Now is the moment to define West Africa for the 21st century by leveraging its extraordinary human and natural resources for the common good."

A History of Accomplishment

The foundation's investments in West Africa today build on a half-century of work in the region and an unwavering commitment to social change in even the toughest of times.

Our first grant in Nigeria focused on building institutions in the newly free state, specifically recruitment and training of public service leaders and economic planning experts. Throughout the 1960s, the foundation supported staff development at universities and the training of public servants, academics and civil society leaders, and it founded the key institution that introduced the Green Revolution to Nigeria.

In the 1970s, foundation grantees were on the frontlines of agricultural and rural development work. In the 1980s, our partners focused on maternal and child health and women's rights. In the 1990s, we began to focus on human rights, as well as HIV/AIDS. Over the past decade, we began developing themes that have led to our current focus on transparency in government, economic development through entrepreneurship, and media, arts and culture.

Over all five decades, our grants have supported the building of strong civil institutions, both in government and in civil society, and across all our work we have continually supported women's empowerment, helping build three generations of women's rights activists.

Our Work in West Africa Today

The Ford Foundation is supporting people and organizations that are committed to building a new culture of transparency, effectiveness and excellence across institutions and to fostering democratic participation and equal opportunity. Our grant making focuses on projects that promote democratic values and engage citizens in advocating for their social and economic rights. We also fund improvements in government, with a focus on openness. We believe these approaches will lead to an environment favorable to development.

In addition, we are addressing the root causes of poverty in two key ways: by funding scalable programs that stimulate private enterprise, with a focus on developing small- and medium-sized businesses, and by supporting projects that advance reproductive health and rights among young West Africans.

The majority of our grants—about 60 percent annually—support projects in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and the economic engine of the region. We also fund regional projects that help strengthen regional integration across West Africa.

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The Ford Foundation

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.