Why a $12 Billion Foundation Committed Itself to Fighting Inequality

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Why you should care

Because America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, right? 

Last year, the Ford Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropies, shifted course — and its $12 billion endowment — toward addressing a single issue: inequality. This summer at OZY Fusion Fest, the foundation’s president, Darren Walker, drew on his own background to explain why.

Walker grew up poor, starting out life “in a shotgun shack in a little town in Texas” — yet he lived in the kind of society where dreams were possible: He attended the preschool program Head Start, good public schools and a great public university for undergrad and law school. “I ask myself today: Would a young Black boy with my socioeconomic background in 2016 feel like I did, which is that I lived in an opportunity society? And I think the answer is probably not.”

If, as Walker argues, inequality has “become a scourge on the American character and the American narrative,” then the question turns to solutions. On that issue, Walker’s fellow panelist, and Ford Foundation grantee, Ai-jen Poo had a compelling case for immigration reform — bringing workers out of the shadows and into the legal economy is a requisite to understanding inequality’s scope.

Poo is an activist who directs the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The organization started with women in church basements in New York, and has since spread to 40 cities in the U.S. and 52 countries.

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