Back in 1922 Henry Ford donated 13 Model Ts to help disabled American veterans get to and from appointments. It was just one of his many philanthropic endeavors.
He also created several trade schools, created or donated land for libraries, university and college campuses, hospitals, churches, recreational facilities, and highway interchanges. You probably don’t know this, but in average years, Ford gave away about 33 percent of his income and often gave away money, food, automobiles, or other articles, according to the Philanthropy Roundtable.
Out of that dedication to improving quality of life for many, the Ford Motor Company Fund was created in 1949. Since then it has invested nearly $1.5 billion in civic organizations around the world. Detroit has been on the receiving end of a good portion of that investment.
“Detroit is our home and we will continue to have a huge presence,” says Jim Vella, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. “We have a 67-year history and have stayed true to our mission.”
Last year the fund invested $20 million in local education, arts, cultural, diversity, hunger relief, and social organizations in Detroit. Just so you know, the fund gave out a total of $55.6 million last year, so Detroit’s portion was substantial. It has invested $161 million over 10 years in southeast Michigan, and it plans to do more.
“We are looking for out-of-the-box thinking that makes an impact on people’s lives,” says Vella, pointing out the fund is also looking for projects that can be replicated in other cities.
The Ford Fund is looking to the future for that innovative thinking and is tapping the Ford Motor Company’s Smart Mobility team to see what projects it can use to improve the quality of life for communities and their residents.
Above all Ford is a mobility company – notice we said mobility, not automotive. It sees things like car-sharing, ride-hailing and other services as essential to its future. It created Smart Mobility as a full-fledged subsidiary back in January 2015 to find alternative means of transportation.
“We have one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow,” says Vella. “What is the social impact of invention? How can we move the needle? When we look at social issues we are not moving the needle enough.”
He believes mobility, and all that goes with it, offers answers.
“How could ride-sharing help get people from one place to another, to doctor’s appointments and jobs?” says Vella. He says the one common denominator around the world is the smart phone and that is an opportunity to reap social benefits.
“We want to bring people together to look at next steps and take the innovation at Ford to help solve social issues,” he says. “Our goal is to help make people’s lives better.”
The goal is to invest in projects that reduce the number of people in need of services and that takes collaboration. The fund continues to look for partners with programs that will help revitalize the city.