Ford Foundation returns to Detroit for board meeting

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — The “grand bargain” has inspired a grand homecoming.

Next month, the Ford Foundation is planning to hold its first board of trustees meeting in Detroit in 67 years — a return to the city inspired by the New York-based national foundation’s involvement last year in helping settle Detroit’s bankruptcy.

“The Ford trustees have never been back since 1948,” Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Walker announced the meeting plan at the end of a morning panel discussion about the bankruptcy with former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, retired bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Chief U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen, who brokered the “grand bargain” with Walker and other foundation presidents.

“There is no place in America to be more hopeful than the city of Detroit,” Walker said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $125 million toward Rosen’s “grand bargain,” a $816 million, 20-year commitment from foundations, private companies and state taxpayers to shore up Detroit’s pensions funds and avert a bankruptcy fire sale of city-owned art.

Ford Foundation’s commitment to the pension-and-art rescue fund was the largest single contribution of any individual, corporation or institution.

The foundation’s $10.3 billion endowment fund was seeded 78 years ago with wealth generated by the Ford Motor Co.

Incorporated in 1936 in Michigan, the Ford Foundation was created with an initial gift of $25,000 from Edsel Ford. Edsel's father, Henry, was the automaker's founder.

The foundation operated as a local philanthropy in Michigan until 1950, when it expanded to become a national and international foundation. Today, the foundation is the second-largest in the United States and has provided more than $16 billion in grants and loans worldwide.

But for nearly 30 years Ford Foundation ties to Michigan were strained. Henry Ford II quit the board in 1977. In his resignation letter, he criticized the foundation, saying that it was supporting projects critical of American business and had forgotten that the fruits of capitalism had provided its financial base.

(517) 371-3660

Detroit News Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.