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Ford Foundation to Close Russia, Vietnam Offices

May 02, 2009

FordFdn_logo Word last week that the Ford Foundation plans to close its offices in Moscow and Hanoi by the end of September is more proof (as if any were needed) that this economic crisis has been an equal opportunity destroyer of wealth.

Like many private foundations, New York City-based Ford has seen the value of its assets fall over the last year by nearly a third, to $9.5 billion. Under its new president, Luis Ubinas, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, the foundation has trimmed its budget by $22 million through a series of cost-cutting measures. But, as the Wall Street Journal's Mike Spector reported on Wednesday, those measures apparently haven't been enough. The closing of its offices in Russia and Vietnam will eliminate thirty jobs and save the foundation an additional $4 million a year.

The foundation opened its Moscow office in 1996 and, according to a report it later published on its activities in Russia, focused its early grants on the social sciences "because these disciplines, severly hampered under the Soviet system, would be essential to developing and understanding the new democracy [there]." The report continues: "From 1996 through 2005, Ford invested more than $25 million in higher education and scholarship in Russia through three initiatives designed to strengthen academic innovation and create strong academic communities of scholars."

According to Foundation Center grants data, U.S. foundation giving in Russia from 2005-2007 averaged roughly $28.5 million a year, with Ford accounting for almost a third (28.5 percent) of the total.

U.S. Foundation Giving to Russia (2005-2007)

Year No. of Grants

2005 87 29,619,923
2006 94 21,383,964
2007 83 34,356,665

Ford Foundation Giving to Russia (2005-2008)

Year No. of Grants Amount
2005 43 8,146,100
2006 41 7,479,800
2007 32 8,701,500
2008 43 9,010,100

Grants recently awarded by the foundation to groups working there (click here for a complete list) include:

As it did in Russia, Ford opened its Vietnam office in 1996, and its presence in that smaller, less developed country, where it makes grants in six areas -- development finance, education and scholarship, environment and development, international cooperation, sexuality and reproductive health, and media, arts and culture -- is even more striking:

U.S. Foundation Giving to Vietnam (2005-2007)

Year No. of Grants Amount
2005 88 7,261,801
2006 86 7,367,625
2007 98 9,380,279

Ford Foundation Giving to Vietnam (2005-2008)

Year No. of Grants Amount
2005 29 4,636,521
2006 33 4,378,186
2007 47 7,533,529
2008 50 9,065,771

Grants recently awarded by Ford to groups working in Vietnam (click here for a complete list) include:

The foundation will continue to fund its International Fellowships Program in both countries and said it plans to continue its support for a project in Vietnam that works to mitigate the consequences of the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide, during the Vietnam War. But its imminent departure from both -- one a former communist state struggling to make the transition to something resembling democracy, the other a "socialist republic" trying to integrate itself into the global economy -- will have ramifications. Will it lead to an exodus of private philanthropic dollars out of Russia? Vietnam? Will others step in to make up the shortfall? Is civil society in either country mature enough at this point to be self-sustaining? Or is Ford's departure a blow from which both countries will struggle to recover? Curious to hear what others think....

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   May 03, 2009 at 03:19 PM

While Ford has its reasons for shuttering operations in Russia and Vietnam, that doesn't close the door for others -- as you suggest -- to pick up the "shortfall." However, to increase chances that one or more foundations at least explore opportunities, it will be key for Ford to share as much as it can about what it accomplished, challenges it faced, as well as what it sees as opportunities for other foundations that might be interested in working in those two countries.

Also, knowing the barriers and challenges to working there shouldn't automatically lead someone to conclude it's not for them. Instead, it can help shape a more thoughtful approach. Otherwise, and without that information, other foundations would have venture blindly, and there's little incentive to do that, even in the best of times.

Posted by Matt  |   May 07, 2009 at 03:10 PM

Given the antagonism toward NGOs by the Russian government the past few years, it seems unlikely any group would start something new there anytime soon. Seems to me, what this may mean for civil society in the former Soviet Union is an important question that will be difficult to answer.

Posted by Al de Leon  |   September 15, 2010 at 05:27 AM

I am neither Russian nor Vietnamese, but I know how it feels to have a shaky economic status. With economic crisis, many people fall and it is sometimes difficult to stand up. Based on this very informative post and a young man’s mind, I can say that Ford’s departure will greatly impact students. I know how hard it is to qualify for a good scholarship. In many cases, the scholarship finder process itself is even more difficult to pursue. On a lighter note, I am a believer of the “there is always a rainbow after the rain” principle. I believe that good hearts will emerge in due time to help students finish their education to fulfill their dreams.

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