Ford’s New Philanthropic Project Is a Break With the Past


“Next month we mark the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, whose unique vision not only made personal transportation affordable, but left a lasting impact on communities where his employees and customers lived,” Jim Vella, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, said in a press release announcing the automaker’s recent community center opening. “Ford Motor Company has been making investments in Detroit for more than a century, and today’s opening of the Ford Resource and Engagement Center demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the city.”

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Ford (NYSE:F) donated the necessary funds to transform a vacant building in Southwest Detroit into the Ford Resource and Engagement Center, which was built to serve as a space for the city’s residents to develop new talents, learn new skills, and obtain needed services. The automaker’s executive chairman Bill Ford and Detroit mayor David Bing opened the doors of the new center last Friday. It is the centerpiece of a $10-million, five-year initiative to expand community services in Detroit.

The programs offered at the center will include a variety of bilingual services, job assistance provided by Detroit Jobs for Progress, income tax preparation, dance and art classes, and academic courses organized by the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit.

While Ford has been an active philanthropist in Detroit for most of its history, supporting public safety efforts and donating to emergency food efforts, the company’s community-related initiatives are usually limited to grants. The Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services’ decision to actively participate in the management of the center is a role it has never taken on before, according to Vella. But, as he told Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit presents different problems than other areas where the company does business so another approach was needed.

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“I am extremely grateful for Ford Motor Company Fund’s ongoing commitment to our neighborhoods,” said Bing, according to press release. “Ford’s generous investments in summer youth jobs, recreation centers, hunger relief and educational opportunities are vital in our efforts to change the conversation about Detroit. We value Ford Motor Company Fund’s support and partnership.”

According to Villa, philanthropy has long been part of Ford’s mission, noting on the funds website, “Shortly after Henry Ford began his enterprise in 1903, he said, ‘A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.’ He was referring to the obligation of companies, not only to create good products for their customers, but also to share good works and goodwill.”

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