Can Strong Visual Storytelling Combat Inequality? Ford and Skoll Think So

When the Ford Foundation announced it would pivoting towards combating inequality, many commentators in the philanthropy world—including those of us at IP—wondered how it would play out.

New insights into this question keep coming in, including recent news that highlights the power of storytelling to take on inequality.  

Ford, in partnership with the Skoll and the UK-based BRITDOC Foundation, announced the creation of the Flex Fund, whereby the grantmakers will provide second-stage funding for joint projects by social entrepreneurs and filmmakers. The first funding round will be focused on Skoll and Ford’s common grantees, with the goal of giving promising storytelling projects a boost to the next level of impact. 

This "level of impact" is inextricably linked with Ford's focus on reducing inequality: "We believe creative visual storytelling is vital to the pursuit of justice and equity in the 21st century," Ford said through its press release. 

Ford also asked "Why do we need the Flex Fund?" Its answer comes straight out of your consultant's training manual: alignment and collaboration. Storytelling expertise, Ford argues, is fragmented across various funders, artists, and producers. Their solution is to consolidate them all under one umbrella and "create a portfolio of promising storytelling projects, partnered with some of the most effective social entrepreneurs in the world, and give them not only funding but also access to the knowledge, experience, and contacts they need." 

In other words, they seek to create what is akin to a "filmmaker as activist" fund where the pay off is positive social change. 

We also would like to provide our own answer to the question "Why do we need the Flex Fund?"

The answer is this: Because the more funders in this space, the better, especially when you consider that the MacArthur Foundation announced it would discontinue direct support of individual documentary projects in 2016. 

Add it all up, and the Flex Fund makes perfect sense. Storytelling is an incredibly direct medium with which to wage the fight against inequality. And Ford's embrace of the medium didn't appear in a vacuum. As previously noted, they've been consistent supporters of "transmedia" film projects that build awareness around pressing social issues. Jeffrey Skoll, meanwhile, has historically been a big proponent of storytelling as of late. 

The Flex Fund is a pilot project that expects to make four to five grants in its first year, each ranging from $25,000 to $75,000. Ford and Skoll are funding the project equally.