Ford Foundation’s work doesn’t end with ‘grand bargain’

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Saying its $125 million “grand bargain” commitment to Detroit was a beginning, not an end, the Ford Foundation is pledging $10 million in grants to the city for 2015.

The New York-based foundation provided the largest donation — $125 million — to the grand bargain, part of the city’s 2014 bankruptcy plan to shield city-owned art and shore up city pensions. That same year it granted an additional $14.75 million to charities and nonprofits in Metro Detroit.

Officials with the foundation, created by the late Edsel Ford, say their pledge for 2015, as well as a $1.3 million round of grants announced last month, are about seizing the momentum created by the bankruptcy resolution and focusing on the next chapter in Detroit.

Xavier de Souza Briggs, vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Economic Opportunity and Assets program, said the $1.3 million will go to seven community efforts focused on boosting civic engagement from the grassroots up.

“This marks the beginning of a new phase in our support for Detroit, in which we work with partners to creatively support the city’s people and their efforts to set Detroit on a more open and inclusive path,” he said. “It’s critical to lift up the voices of those living closest to the challenges in Detroit.”

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.

In 2005, then-Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox launched an investigation into the foundation, because it was chartered in Michigan, examining its governance, potential conflicts of interest and thin record of giving to its hometown and state.

Between 1998 and 2005, the foundation’s annual grants to Michigan charities totaled less than $1.5 million a year, running as low as $200,000 in 2000. In 2001 the Ford Foundation granted $593 million worldwide.

No wrongdoing was ever found in the investigation and in subsequent years, the foundation began funneling more money to Detroit and Michigan.

In 2006, the foundation awarded a $25 million grant to help found the New Economy Initiative in Detroit with the goal “to return Detroit to its position as a global economic leader.” Nine other foundations contributed an additional $75 million to launch NEI.

Between 2007 and 2013, the Ford Foundation committed $96.74 million in Metro Detroit, according to data provided by the foundation. In recent years, its grant-making expanded to redevelopment projects such as the Riverfront Conservancy, Detroit Future City and the M-1 rail project.

In 2014, the foundation committed $125 million to the grand bargain as well as another $14.75 million in grants to Metro Detroit, for a total of $139.75 million.

Kresge takes the lead

While the Ford Foundation provided a substantial amount of grants in Metro Detroit from 2008 to 2012, three other Michigan-based foundations ranked as the top three givers for the area, according to data from the Foundation Center.

While estimates vary based on how grants are counted, from 2008 to 2012, the Ford Foundation granted $68.6 million.

The Troy-based Kresge Foundation granted more than $153 million during the same period. The Detroit-based Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan granted more than $88 million while the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation gave more than $70 million during those years.

The Ford Motor Company Fund, which began its operations in 1949 and focuses on community life, education and safety, granted more than $49 million to Michigan projects.

Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, a nonprofit research center, said measuring how much foundations give to Detroit can be tricky because large multi-year grants are counted only in the year they are given, so a year later it may appear that there is a dip in giving, when the money continues to come into the community.

“You need to look long term. There are multi-year projects going on; the impact and benefit is stretched over time,” Smith said.

Engaging Detroit

Rob Collier, president of the Council on Michigan Foundation, said Darren Walker, named Ford Foundation president 2013, has played a significant role in investment in Detroit since he arrived — not only in the bankruptcy’s grand bargain, but also in the recent round of grants.

“With the Ford Foundation, it’s really a question of leadership. The recent grant to Detroit signals (Walker’s) intent to be a part of Detroit post-bankruptcy,” Collier said.

“You have to look at Darren’s background and community development. He is all about raising people up,” Collier said. “It’s great to do projects, but if Detroiters aren’t engaged, it’s not going to be as successful as it could be. His background is all about civic engagement, getting everyone involved.”

Ford’s investment in Detroit and the region should be looked at not just in grant dollars, but in what new opportunities are now available, Collier said.

“Think about trying to put a dollar figure on Detroit being in bankruptcy for years and lost opportunity because people wouldn’t invest in bankruptcy,” he said.

The $125 million committed, Collier said, “that amount is greatly magnified when you think of the key indicators that Detroit is ready for business. It’s a good place to invest. The challenges are not over. That’s why you see this new investment ... we have a long way to go.”

Collier said the questions raised by the attorney general’s investigation did one thing: It prompted the foundation to be a more active partner.

“Under the leadership of Darren Walker, that partnership has risen,” he said.

Addressing inequality

Ford Foundation leaders met with Detroit grantees last month to hear their concerns about the next chapter in Detroit and what needs to be done. Their concerns centered on being eager to engage and problem solve, helping people who feel left out of planning to date, understanding what’s at stake, he said.

“On one hand, these groups are excited about the restoration of democracy and dealing with elected officials at the local level,” Briggs said. “And at the same time, having great hope that restoration of democracy will not mean a return to business as usual.”

Dessa Cosma-King is director of the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, which is receiving a Ford Foundation grant to create a coalition of community organizing groups to address inequality.

“By training new grassroots organizers, we are really exponentially increasing the amount of civic engagement in Detroit. We are also increasing the capacity of these organizations by helping them hire a full-time organizer,” Cosma-King said.

Mothering Justice is one of five small organizations that the Economic Justice Alliance supports. Phyllis Jacob was part of the alliance’s 2014 fellowship program that trains organizers. The Ford Foundation grant will pay for her to be a full-time organizer for Mothering Justice, which advocates on behalf of mothers and families.

Through the alliance, “we learned how to become advocates for ourselves and the community. They taught us how to speak up and get things done in the community,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said there is a perception by the government that people are not engaged. They are wrong, she said.

“They want to see things get better. People are not disengaged. They could be more engaged. Through the Ford Foundation grant we are talking to more people and getting the word out,” she said. “You can’t have one conversation and stop. You need to keep the momentum going.”


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Ford Foundation grants

The New York-based Ford Foundation announced $1.3 million in new civic engagement grants in December and plans to make additional grants of more than $10 million in 2015. The new round of grantees and their efforts include:

■Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan to create a coalition of community organizing groups to address inequality across sectors and city neighborhoods.

■Detroit Voices to support the building of Community Advisory Councils in each of the seven City Council districts and to enhance their ability to participate in policy deliberations.

■Demos: Building Movement Project to works with social service agencies in Detroit neighborhoods for community organizing and developing a “People’s Platform” for revitalization and development in Detroit.

■Detroit Hispanic Development Corp. to supports the Consortium of Hispanic Agencies to incorporate community organizing and policy engagement into their work.

Officials said that support will be focused on housing and community development, educational opportunities, economic revitalization and job creation, regional transportation infrastructure, and arts and culture organizations.

Source: The Ford Foundation