Ford Foundation’s mission is to reduce inequality. The Office of Strategy and Learning (OSL) supports Ford programs around the world to develop and refine strategies, make effective grants, and evaluate and learn from both progress and challenges. We do this with the recognition that addressing the root causes of inequality is complex and long-term work.

This document outlines the principles that are at the heart of all our work, as well as those that are specific to each stage of programming: strategy development; grantmaking; monitoring; learning; and evaluation. We endeavor to center these principles in our work and use them to hold ourselves accountable to our partners inside and outside the foundation. And we do this, all the while recognizing we are on an ongoing journey to learn, improve, and challenge ourselves, and that this work is never done.

In everything we do…

We seek to be participatory and collaborative.

We believe in the power of diverse perspectives. Internally, we partner with Ford staff at all levels across the Foundation. Externally, we make a point to bring in the voices of grantees and external experts who challenge and expand our thinking.

We strive to share information.

We are committed to making information accessible to our colleagues at Ford, to grantees, and to the field as a whole, wherever we safely can. We see this sharing as one small way to reduce power imbalances between philanthropy, grantees, and the broader social justice sector.

We believe skepticism is valuable. 

We use it in the service of continuous improvement, always thinking and asking: “Are things changing in the ways we expected; why or why not? How should we adjust on the basis of what we are seeing?”

We seek to acknowledge our limitations, assumptions, and biases.

We do so not as an excuse, but to acknowledge complexity and lead with humility.

We seek to respect people’s time.

When we seek the involvement of Ford staff, grantees, or other external partners, we try to ensure that we are not being extractive and use their time effectively.

In supporting program teams to develop and refine strategies, and then implement strategies through grantmaking…

We shape strategies focused on systems level change, whether at the local, national, regional, or global level.

When defining the problem, we ask teams to identify the actors, institutions, and systems that uphold inequality in addition to the norms and values that continue to replicate and justify it. We then ask them to articulate their theory of change and action to shift the status quo, at each level in which they work.

We recognize the role of power.

In developing our strategies, we interrogate how different populations are affected by a particular issue or problem, including who is most affected and why. We also seek to understand power dynamics among the people and institutions working to address those problems. In our grantmaking, we seek to support organizations that represent and are led by people with diverse experiences, in particular those at the margins, who represent and are accountable to the communities they serve.

We foster an approach to strategy and grantmaking that centers the needs of grantees.

We support programs to develop relationships with grantee organizations over the long term, prioritize multi-year flexible support, pay the full indirect cost of project grants, support grantees’ institutional health and resilience, and center diversity, equity, and inclusion in their funding decisions. Throughout these processes, we strive to keep burdens light and provide grantees with the flexibility to adapt to changes in context and seize unexpected opportunities. In strategy development and refresh, we engage grantees intentionally to help define problems and identify opportunities and challenges.

We value feedback.

We seek the perspectives of individuals, grantees, and non-grantee stakeholders who have diverse and divergent opinions to help inform our strategies. And we are always seeking to improve our policies, processes, and practices to become more effective partners with our grantees. We do this by requesting feedback from our grantees through the Grantee Perception Report, through conversations with Program Officers, and through evaluations, to understand how we are doing as funders and partners, and how we can do better. Similarly, we ask for feedback from our evaluation consultants and other external partners, asking how we can improve the next time around.

We seek to engage with, influence, and learn from the field.

We want to influence other funders to shift their own grantmaking practices and invest in long-term social change, rather than in short-term interventions that treat the symptom and not the root of a problem.

The ways in which we monitor, evaluate, and learn require that we ask ourselves: To what end, for whom, and by whom? With that in mind…

We focus our monitoring primarily on our program strategy outcomes.

This means looking across an entire portfolio of grantees, rather than at an individual grantee or project. We do this so that we can understand trends at the systems-level, trusting our grantees to make decisions based on what they are seeing in their spheres of control. This also translates into how we track ongoing progress. Instead of a strict focus on donor metrics, we ask grantees to define benchmarks or “indicators” of success for themselves.

We design evaluations aimed at helping us understand complex social change and apply lessons to future work.

We prioritize evaluation designs that are user-focused and acknowledge the role of power and context. We don’t privilege particular methods, but rather a combination of quantitative and qualitative information to understand the nuance of what worked, what didn’t, under what conditions, and why.

We seek to understand Ford’s contribution — acknowledging complex social change will never be attributed to one institution.

We focus on understanding progress (and obstacles) relative to our outcomes and broader change, and on interrogating our assumptions about how change happens. And we work to understand how progress toward complex change is unfolding across a variety of organizations that take different approaches to achieving common goals.

We center equity in who and how we partner with external evaluators.

We aim to find people from diverse backgrounds, who have worked alongside the communities they are evaluating. In our request for proposals, we provide opportunities for evaluators to ask questions, are transparent about our budget for a given evaluation, make clear our decision-making criteria, and provide feedback on our selection process.

We value continuous learning.

We build in intentional moments to learn about our strategies and what affects them, through annual strategy reflections, evaluations, and learning sessions. We support program teams to analyze data on outcome indicators and on the external environment, to learn and adjust along the way. Through learning questions, we interrogate the assumptions embedded in our strategies and arrive at a deeper understanding of how change happens.

We promote learning across programs and offices as a way to increase our impact.

We encourage teams to collaboratively reflect on issues and identify lessons learned that are common across regions and programs.

We share what we learn, with a focus on what’s useful.

We aim to produce and disseminate information in a way that is valuable not only to Ford, but to our grantees and the broader social justice field. We try to do this in a way that is tailored to different audiences and accessible to a broad group of stakeholders. We share evaluations on our website and host webinars to report on our learnings.