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Ford Foundation board meets in Detroit for the first time since 1946

Jun 16, 2015

The Detroit Institute of Arts
Credit DIA

This week, the Ford Foundation’s board of trustees meets in Detroit for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The foundation’s roots are in Detroit, where it was launched by Edsel Ford and the Ford Motor Company in the 1930s. It moved its headquarters to New York in 1946, and has since become an organization with a global philanthropic reach.

But the foundation has redoubled its efforts in Detroit since the city’s 2013 bankruptcy.

It donated $125 million to the “grand bargain” to secure the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection, and provide a measure of protection to the city’s pensioners. It’s pledged an additional $10 million in grants to the city this year.

That’s because the foundation is “radically optimistic” about Detroit’s resurgence, and wants to “reaffirm our commitment to this unique and important place,” CEO Darren Walker and board chair Kofi Appenteng wrote in a Detroit Free Press editorial.

Detroit’s situation also meshes with the foundation’s recent shift in focus to tackling inequality, Walker and Appenteng argued. “[Inequality] is why, for instance, when Detroit entered Chapter 9 bankruptcy, it was not the powerful or wealthy who were asked to sacrifice, but those already most vulnerable,” they wrote.

“Our contribution to the grand bargain was a direct acknowledgment of the urgency and scale of the issues that were gripping the city and undermining its future — issues tied to inequality in how resources were collected, accounted for and distributed. The largest single grant we've ever made in the U.S., it built upon a decade of investment in the region seeking to overcome inequality.”

The foundation’s 16 trustees will meet with many of the city’s community, business and government leaders over the course of a three-day board session.