Beats | July 11, 2017

Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker takes on opponents of impact investing — including his own trustees

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Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, unloaded on philanthropies in general — and Ford’s own trustees.

Walker earlier this year carved out $1 billion (over 10 years) out of Ford’s $12 billion endowment for mission-related investments, or MRIs. At the GSG Impact Summit in Chicago, he shared some of the story of a journey he said ‘has been very challenging and uncomfortable for my trustees and my investment committee…who are very conservative.”

Trustees told him, “‘We are not doing this. We are not doing this,’” Walker said. Walker set up a parallel investment office because Ford’s investment officer declined to manage the MRIs. When Walker told his CIO he’d love him to become an impact investor, “He had an answer for me.”

Walker was even more critical of other foundations who have not yet committed any part of their endowments toward achieving their social missions, two years after the Treasury Department removed legal barriers to such a move. “Philanthropy for the most part has shrugged its shoulders, with the same tired rhetoric about what we’re doing to change the world, without actually changing our own behavior,” Walker said.

He hopes the performance of the new investment program will spur more foundations to point their endowments toward impact. “I am confident that we are going to make money,” he said. “I am also confident that we are going to get better at measuring for social impact.”