Ford Foundation leader: Real societal change stems from attacking root causes of problems
By Jessica Williams
February 10, 2021
Real philanthropy doesn’t just involve throwing money at societal problems, according to Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.
Effective charitable giving requires investing in organizations and institutions that attempt to resolve the root causes of those issues, which often involve systemic racism or long-festering economic inequities.
Speaking at a Bureau of Governmental Research virtual luncheon Tuesday, Walker urged philanthropists to use the power they have been afforded to boldly face the inequalities that have plagued the less fortunate in cities such as New Orleans. He also praised BGR and similar organizations for their work to inform public policies that offer solutions.
“Philanthropy is important and philanthrophy is commendable, but it should not allow the philanthropist to overlook the economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary,” Walker said, quoting civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, has worked since 1932 to provide New Orleans’ voting population with analyses of government policies. The group also makes recommendations to city leaders.
Each year, it holds a virtual luncheon with a keynote speaker. Its 2020 luncheon was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Walker has led the $14 billion Ford Foundation, which focuses on issues of social justice, since 2013. That foundation has also been at the forefront of New Orleans’ recovery, donating over $45 million to 100 organizations in the city from 2005 to 2015 alone.
Before then, he was vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he was a force in funneling private dollars to rebuild New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
For philanthropists and others seeking to help cities or sectors that struggle with inequities, the solution is to address head on the systems that afford massive stockpiles of wealth to certain people while keeping others impoverished, he said Tuesday.
“My responsibility as an American committed to our ideas of fairness and opportunity, is to acknowledge that I probably have more opportunity than I need, while others have less opportunity and less fairness,” Walker said. “So… how do we make sure that we have systems and policies that promote fairness? That’s what we have to be committed to in this country.”
In Southern cities such as New Orleans, those divisions are often rooted in racist systems that marginalize African Americans and a history of “white elites pitting working class and poor whites against blacks,” he said.
“Philanthropists who are really willing to move the state and the region and the city forward have to be really be mindful of that,” Walker said. Without that recognition, “you are not going to actually see material change.”
Fair Use Notice
This site occasionally reprints copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues and to highlight the accomplishments of our affiliates. We believe this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is available without profit. For more information go to: US CODE: Title 17,107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use,” you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.