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Markets Magazine

Ford Foundation’s Walker Says Philanthropy Should Be ‘Uncomfortable’

The foundation president talks about leveraging the capital markets and taking inspiration from James Baldwin and John Lewis to make change.

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Darren Walker, 62, disrupted his Wall Street life more than 25 years ago when he left what is now UBS Group AG to volunteer at a school and eventually pursue a career in community development and philanthropy. Since 2013 he’s been at the pinnacle of the philanthropic world as president of the Ford Foundation, created by the family of automaker Henry Ford during the Great Depression to advance human welfare.

The past year and a half has featured a challenging set of social disruptions: the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic damage, a racial reckoning in the U.S., and climate-related destruction. Walker has tackled these in inventive ways, including issuing $1 billion of 30-year and 50-year “social bonds” that enabled the foundation to boost its giving to meet needs created by the pandemic. Since then, rising markets have lifted the foundation’s endowment to more than $17 billion. Walker spoke with Bloomberg Markets in July. (In late September, one of the foundation’s grant recipients, startup Ozy Media, was accused of misleading potential investors and partners. Matthew Creegan, a Ford Foundation spokesperson, said the foundation hasn’t given money to Ozy since it provided $1.95 million to fund programming in 2016 and 2017. Walker declined to comment.) This interview has been edited for length and clarity.