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For fifty years, advocates have been urging foundations to think more holistically about applying their assets, putting some of the 95 percent to good works, not just the five percent payout. Much of this advocacy has been coming from “inside the house”—that is, from inside foundations and from other foundations which have themselves have taken steps to go all-in. Discussions of what this more holistic application of foundation resources could look like have included everything from investment screens (divesting philanthropic portfolios of fossil fuel, private prison, and other noxious stocks) to spending down assets for public benefit in the current epoch. These calculations frequently included as options program-related investments (PRIs) and mission-related investments (MRIs), which have been in play among a smallish group of foundations for decades but consistently underutilized.
So, what on earth could have suddenly possessed the Ford Foundation to decide to carve out a billion dollars from its $12 billion endowment to devote to MRIs? Foundation president Darren Walker says there was nothing sudden about it. The prospect has been under discussion and development for a solid year, with active, critical, and even skeptical board participation.
To place Ford’s initiative in perspective, $1 billion over the next ten years may end up being about 18 percent of what is expended in grants (between $500 and $600 million) each year—a significant commitment over and above the grants budget but not an overwhelming one. Walker does not expect this commitment to reduce that grants budget.
This decision is a natural extension of our history of PRI investing, which will continue to play an important role in our approach to impact. It is deeply rooted in our ongoing program work to build more inclusive economies, help mature the impact investing sector, and fulfill our special obligation to help move market-based economies toward “the high road”—squaring the dynamism of markets with society’s highest values, especially fairness and human dignity.