Exchanging Experiences, Expanding Opportunities

Moving the Ford Foundation Forward: Addressing global inequality


How do we identify the institutions, individuals, and ideas that will lead the next era of progress toward human dignity for all?

Addressing global inequality

The Ford Foundation identified the growth of inequality in our world as their main concern. Not just the economic disparities that have emerged in global debates these past few years but also inequality in politics and participation; in culture and creative expression; in education and economic opportunity; and in the prejudicial ways that institutions and systems marginalize low-income people, women, ethnic minorities, Indigenous peoples, and people of color.

Inequality in all its forms—in influence, access, agency, resources, and respect. We would argue that inequality, in one form or another, is coded into just about every one of our social ills. Research demonstrates that extreme inequality weakens economic growth and undermines the social cohesion of societies.

Remarkably, although manifestations varied by region, the assessment of underlying drivers was strikingly constant across the world. Broadly stated, we found five factors that consistently contribute to inequality:

  • Cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance and inclusion
  • Unequal access to government decision-making and resources
  • Persistent prejudice and discrimination against women as well as racial, ethnic and caste minorities
  • Rules of the economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes
  • The failure to invest in and protect vital public goods, such as education and natural resources

To address and respond to these drivers of inequality, we will be working in six program areas, very much reflective of the five drivers. They are:

  • Civic Engagement and Government
  • Creativity and Free Expression
  • Gender, Ethnic, and Racial Justice
  • Inclusive Economies
  • Internet Freedom
  • Youth Opportunity and Learning

These six thematic areas will not be silos, each unto itself. They are ingredients that each of our offices—depending on local context and the priorities set by local partners—will combine in creative ways to disrupt the drivers of inequality. We suspect that in many cases the most dynamic frontlines of social change will be found not within these six areas, but at the intersections where they connect. And our commitment to human rights and human dignity will be at the center of all of them.

In any case, our work in these areas will not attempt to cover the waterfront. These program areas may be stated broadly for now, but they will become more concrete and specific as we continue to refine our thinking and learn and adapt through our grant making.

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