Ford Foundation to invest in Detroit, target inequality

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Fighting inequality will be the focus of all grant making for the Ford Foundation, and president Darren Walker said Thursday the work will begin with additional investments in Detroit.

The nation's second largest foundation, established by Henry Ford's son Edsel in 1936 and now located in New York, announced this month a shift in grant making to focus on attacking financial, racial, gender, educational and cultural inequities and their consequences.

Walker was in Detroit Thursday afternoon after spending three days exploring the city and meeting with grantees and community members. On Tuesday the board of trustees held its first meeting in Detroit since 1948.

"The most stark manifestation of inequality is between Detroit the city and the region of southeast Michigan. There has to be more support for efforts to build the community regionally," he said.

Walker said he repeatedly heard from grantees and community members that they didn't know each other.

"They would say 'the only reason we are in the room together is you convened us together.' We have to support more bridge building with communities in the city and in the state," he said.

Walker told The Detroit News the foundation will focus grants on the drivers of inequality, which often include unevenness in civic participation in low income communities.

"That means we are investing more in Detroit to encourage the participation in civic life for all participants," he said.

The foundation has pledged $10 million in grants to the city for 2015. It has awarded $238.4 million in grants since fiscal 2004, including $125 million for the grand bargain.

Walker said Detroit is doing a great job of revitalizing the major areas of downtown and Woodward Avenue corridor and residents told him that municipal services are improving.

"The question is: What's next? There is a clear consensus that more attention needs to be given to the neighborhoods beyond Midtown and downtown and that has to become a priority. Decisions are going to have to be made in investing and what neighborhoods to prioritize," he said.

While the city has to be pro-business, pro-economic development, growth must be inclusive for the city to successful, he said.

The foundation is also changing the way it funds grantees by giving them core support in the form of operating funds, rather than focusing on project support.

Walker said the goal is to double the total it grants for operational support. Over the next five years — from 2016 to 2020 — trustees have authorized up to $1 billion for a concerted effort to create stronger, more sustainable organizations.

Walker said in some cases the change may mean larger, longer-term grants that have more flexibility. In other cases it could mean support for wrap-around services that help an organization develop or merge with another.

Ford Foundation community investments

The Ford Foundation has granted $238.5 million to programs and institutions in Detroit and $260.9 million to Michigan since 2004. Recipients include:

■Foundation for Detroit's Future (grand bargain dollars) $125 million

■■Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan $35 million

■Shorebank Enterprise, Detroit $15.5 million

■Regents of the University of Michigan $4.1 million

■Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services $3.9 million

■Focus HOPE $3.6 million

■Capital Impact Partners $$3.4 million

■State Voices $2.9 million

Source: The Ford Foundation