Ford Foundation: Challenging Inequality Grants

Ford Foundation

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Grant amount: US $10,000 - US $2,000,000

Deadline: Rolling

Applicant type: Organizations

Funding uses: Education / Outreach, Project / Program, General Operating Expense

Location of project: Algeria; Argentina; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bahrain Show all

Location of residency: Anywhere in the world

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About this funder:




Idea Submission: 

The Ford Foundation is always open to new ideas, and we welcome your input. Please keep in mind that in relation to the large number of worthwhile submissions we receive, our funds are limited: In a typical year, less than one percent of unsolicited grant ideas result in funding.

We ask that you please submit ideas through the online form, and refrain from contacting program officers directly. If we are interested in learning more about your idea, you will hear from us within 45 days.

About Ford

We believe in the inherent dignity of all people. But around the world, too many people are excluded from the political, economic, and social institutions that shape their lives. 

Across eight decades, our mission has sought to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.

Challenging Inequality

We believe in the inherent dignity of all people. Yet around the world, billions of people are excluded from full participation in the political, economic, and cultural systems that shape their lives. 

We view this fundamental inequality as the defining challenge of our time, one that limits the potential of all people, everywhere. Addressing inequality is at the center of everything we do.

What's Driving Inequality

We have identified five underlying drivers of inequality—common factors that, worldwide, contribute to inequality’s many manifestations.

  • Entrenched Cultural Narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion
  • Failure to Invest in and Protect Vital Public Goods such as education and natural resources
  • Unfair Rules of the Economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes
  • Unequal Access to Government decision making and resources
  • Persistent Prejudice and Discrimination against women, people with disabilities and racial, ethnic, and caste minorities

What We Work On

To address and respond to these drivers, we work and make grants in seven interconnected areas that together, we believe, can help challenge inequality.

Very intentionally, we do not see these program areas as silos. They are entry points that our eleven offices—considering local context and local partners—combine in creative ways to target the drivers of inequality. It is at the intersections of these areas that we believe real change is possible. And our core values, including commitment to human rights and working with those closest to the problems, infuse and inform everything we do.

How we work

How we work is as important as what we work on. Throughout our history, the foundation’s approach has been characterized by a continuous emphasis on building institutions and networks, investing in individuals and leadership, and supporting new ideas. These are our three I’s.

Civic Engagement and Government

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US Civic participation

We support strategic litigation and legal advocacy to eliminate voter suppression and safeguard the right to vote. We also support efforts to make sure the 2020 census is fair and accurate. We support groups and networks as they build grassroots constituencies and develop strategies to make government more responsive, enable people to determine public agendas and priorities, and reclaim and rebuild trust in government. This includes building strategic leadership and coalitions at the state and national levels that can help people—particularly those who historically have not had a seat at the table—engage with and influence government in order to make it more accountable.

Next-generation leadership

We focus on helping young people and emerging leaders have influence on pressing issues of injustice and inequality in their own communities—and do so in ways that build their skills and capacity for a lifetime of leadership. We support strong, social justice organizations and intergenerational movements, with an emphasis on developing leadership among those who have been disadvantaged or excluded. Ultimately, we aim to foster civic engagement that translates into political influence and shapes social justice agendas—and contributes to a more equitable, representative, and just society.


The Civic Engagement and Government International program seeks to strengthen protections for civic space and civil society in the Global South.

We work to counter a set of severe and sustained attacks on civil society: a rise of restrictive regulations that hinder the establishment and functioning of civic organizations, a weakening of essential rights and freedoms, the criminalization of outspoken social justice leaders, and a pervasive use of technology to undermine free association, organizing, and collective action.

While these trends playout globally, they manifest very differently at the national level.

We see an opportunity to draw diverse and otherwise disconnected actors together to strengthen the relationships among them, with the aim of developing new approaches to civic space issues and allowing civic institutions and life to thrive. We help connect international, regional, and national organizations and leaders to enhance their collaboration. As part of this work, we also support efforts to increase protection for social justice leaders under threat—for example, regulations that protect civic organizations and limit misuses of digital tools for surveillance and misinformation.

Additionally, in select regional offices, we support work on concrete issues rooted in inequality for which governments can be held accountable. The goal is to identify issues that will move to the top of the public agenda, attract broad interest, and galvanize new advocates—and in doing so, help build the resilience and the impact of civil society actors. Such issues include the inability of many farmers in India to earn a living income; the lack of affordable health care in the Middle East and North Africa; unbridled corruption in Eastern Africa; pervasive gun violence and lack of public safety in Brazil; and legal impunity for elites who commit grave human rights violations in Mexico.

Across this work, we will convene private, government, and non-governmental stakeholders to develop alliances and advocate within regional and global bodies to establish norms and nurture their implementation, shape the public debate by communicating alternative narratives, and support efforts to keep social justice leaders safe and their organizations resilient.

Creativity and Free Expression

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We support stories told through a range of practices: literary, visual, and performing arts; documentary and emerging media (JustFilms); and investigative journalism. We seek to uncover stories we haven’t heard before, and elevate voices that have been marginalized, distorted, ignored, or silenced. We engage with artists, media makers, and journalists to advance innovative ideas and address challenges facing these respective fields. We also support the diverse organizations and networks that enable these fields to thrive.

Future of Work(ers)

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As societies in the global North and global South adapt to rapid change, we seek to ensure that there is a meaningful future of work that places workers and their well-being at the center. We believe the time is now to actively shape the future of work.

Strengthening Connections

To strengthen the emerging Future of Work field as a whole, the time is right to make connections across issues and areas of focus. With that in mind, we seek to bridge the gaps between consumers’ hopes and needs, workers’ experiences, changing business models, evolving technology, and political strategies, with an eye to shaping a collective agenda. By bringing together unlikely partners, we aim to seed strong coalitions that can devise powerful solutions to the challenges wrought by the changing nature of work today. We support efforts to bring together technologists, workers, researchers, policy experts, private sector leaders, and social justice advocates to leverage existing collaborations and create new ones.

Shaping solutions in policy and practice

Even in the most advanced economies, current labor and social protection policies—the laws and regulations that govern terms of employment, the relationship between employers, workers, unions, and the government, and the benefits workers receive—do not address the new reality of less secure, and increasingly disconnected, employer-employee relationships. And economies in the global South often show high rates of labor informality and precarity. Furthermore we lack the data and information that could help us establish a complete picture of current conditions and where we are, or should be, headed. To address this, we support efforts to develop, test, and implement innovative labor and social protection policies, as well as private sector practices and models.

Strengthening worker organization, voice and power

Policy changes and anti-labor business practices—plus a labor movement in major transition—mean that workers and civil society often lack the influence and power they need to deal with corporate dominance. To realize effective, worker-centered solutions to today’s challenges, workers must be able to influence and orient the agenda. That’s why we invest in building the capacity of workers and worker-centered organizations to engage in and shape the debate about work today and in the future.

Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice

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In the US, we focus on challenging the connected issues of mass incarceration, the demonization of immigrants and migrants, and the attack on women’s fundamental rights. Our work focuses on countering abuses of power and reimagining the state’s role in protecting the safety and dignity of all people—and engaging state authorities as partners in that process.

Mass-incarceration Reform

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world—mainly poor people and people of color. Our grants support public education and advocacy for sentencing reforms aimed at reducing prison populations and redirecting funds into crime prevention and other initiatives that foster the success of people in neighborhoods hardest hit by crime and incarceration. We also support the replication of a limited number of innovative alternative-to-incarceration models. And we support communications initiatives that push back against the narrative of incarceration as an answer to public safety, instead emphasizing the humanity of the people in the criminal justice system—and more rational and cost-effective approaches to addressing crime.

Reproductive and gender justice

We seek to strengthen the base of visible, effective support for reproductive health and rights. We believe that rather than being divisive in our politics and culture, these issues are fundamental ones that can add momentum and energy to other efforts to disrupt inequality. At the federal and state levels, we work to ensure advocates’ and policymakers’ increased, consistent, and diverse support for reproductive justice, so that all women have autonomy over their bodies and lives. We test new models of support and organizing and invest in new leaders who can work across race and geography.

Immigrant and migrant rights

Our work supports efforts to advance more rational and humane immigration policy. We focus on addressing how immigration laws are enforced, and on curbing the use of criminal justice mechanisms for immigration matters—so that immigrant communities are no longer regular targets of punitive practices. We work to deepen existing alliances and build bridges to new partners.

Technology and Society

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International program

Our work supports an emerging field of organizations with specialized expertise in technology systems, law, and policy, that seek to establish norms, regulations, technical standards, and enforcement of rules for technology that protect the public in the digital landscape.

We also invest in the technical skills, intelligence, and capacity of civil society groups working in established social justice fields like human rights, government accountability, and civic engagement.

US Program

Our work supports a growing field of organizations and networks working to ensure that digital technologies are designed and governed in ways that advance equity and justice. We seek to keep the internet open, accessible, and secure for all people. Our grantees are advancing effective and equitable public interest technology policies, regulations, technical infrastructure, and social norms, as well as increasing public awareness of the impact of digital communications technologies on society.

We also support the development of a robust, diverse field of public interest technologists who bring a social justice lens to their work. We support organizations and networks that are working at the intersection of civil rights, social justice, and technology—challenging corporate and government surveillance and discriminatory technology tools and practices, and working toward freedom of expression, accessibility, privacy, and net neutrality—and investing in communities that advocate for digital rights and access.

Just Cities and Regions

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We work with community leaders, employers, housing developers, impact investors, and government to build the will for transformative change, and to test and scale powerful innovation in policy and practice. We are working to link grassroots movements to policy advocacy and build networks of uncommon allies. And we are working to advance compelling narratives that heighten Americans’ understanding and sense of urgency about the importance of affordable rental housing, not only for fostering strong families and communities, but also as a public good that advances the common good.

To meet these challenges, the foundation's four-year initiative (2018-2021) on affordable housing leverages grants and catalytic impact investments—in the form of program-related investments (PRIs) and mission-related investments (MRIs)—together with the expertise and learning we’ve developed over a half century in the field. Recognizing the need for a new chapter for housing in America, we are especially interested in fresh approaches to organizing, advocacy and storytelling that mobilize new champions; public revenue and public-private finance; and land supply for scaling both preservation and new production of affordable homes.

Natural Resources and Climate Change

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The National Resources and Climate Change program supports efforts by low-income, rural, and indigenous communities in the Global South to shape policies around natural resources that affect their lives and mitigate climate change.

We believe that if governments and companies reduce corruption and raise standards for how natural resources are sourced and traded, this sector could be a force for reducing inequality and promoting sustainability.

We support indigenous peoples and local communities to expand their capacity, build alliances and networks, and build their power in public and private decision-making spaces. We also work with think tanks and advocacy and legal organizations. Just as significantly, we engage in strategic communications to help shift narratives around natural resources, extractive industries, and climate change.

Finally, we work to build a network of private, public, bilateral, and multilateral funders. The goal is to leverage international finance toward the design and effective implementation of policies that disrupt inequality, curb climate change, and strengthen and preserve the autonomy of the communities we support.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • The project must align with one or more of the Ford Foundation's seven program areas focused on challenging inequality (as listed in Overview).


  • Civic Engagement and Government:
    • Because our goal is systemic change in the rules and structures of democratic participation, we do not fund voter registration or get-out-the-vote efforts.
    • We do not fund projects to improve government transparency for its own sake.
    • And because our goal is to support strong and sustainable civic infrastructure, we do not fund individual issue-based policy campaigns.
    • We also do not fund direct services, fellowships, or pilot programs disconnected from our core strategic focus.
    • We do not fund general youth leadership development that is disconnected from issues of civic engagement and democracy.
  • Creativity and Free Expression:
    • Our grant making does not support advocacy and commissioned projects, educational initiatives and student projects, film schools, journalism tools and technology, and awards, scholarships, and endowment funds.
  • Future of Work:
    • We do not make grants to support efforts to strengthen economic and financial security outside the context of work for example in areas such food and nutrition assistance.
    • We do not fund scientific or technological research that is disconnected from work and workers.
    • And we do not fund workforce development and skill-building, or entrepreneurship training and financing.
    • Note: The foundation’s Mission Investments team does invest in enterprises, including funds that emphasize job quality.
  • Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice:
    • We do not fund standalone conferences and individual research projects that are not linked to ongoing strategy support, and we do not fund individual degrees and fellowships. We also do not support work on juvenile justice, the school-to-prison pipeline, prisoner re-entry services, employment of formerly incarcerated people, indigent defense reform, civil access to justice, conditions of confinement, the death penalty, and wrongful convictions.
    • We do not make grants in support of broad-based strategies to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant labor issues, naturalization and civic engagement of immigrants, educational and health access for immigrants, refugee resettlement or refugee humanitarian assistance work, language access, spatial segregation, voting rights, employment inequality, the wealth gap, and educational attainment/affirmative action. We also do not fund direct services (legal or otherwise) except as connected to a larger systemic reform strategy.
    • We do not fund work on sexuality education, gender-based violence, human trafficking, and sex trafficking.
  • Technology & Society
    • We do not make grants to support the development of apps, websites, platforms, hackathons, online campaign technology, or other technology products.
    • We do not support computer deployment, education, intellectual property work, traditional media policy, digital journalism, or digital training.
  • Just Cities and Regions:
    • We do not make grants to support individual housing developments, homeownership programs, broad community revitalization programs, economic development, infrastructure and public space, or urban design and innovation efforts that are unrelated to rental housing affordability.
  • Natural Resources and Climate Change:
    • We do not fund initiatives that primarily focus on water resources and agriculture, or adaptation to climate change.