For the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, Education Also Means Literacy

A cynic might say that Ben & Jerry's Foundation wants everyone to be able to read to comprehend the clever copy on its pints of ice cream.

But while Ben & Jerry's sees great, interrelated need (including how that relates to literacy), the foundation isn't a cynical place at all.

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Vermont-based ice cream company, was established in 1985 with a gift of stock from one of its namesakes, Ben Cohen. The other namesake, Jerry Greenfield, was named president of the foundation (a post he still holds to this day; he has joked that he was appointed because he missed the first meeting when positions were decided.) Jerry’s claim is a light-hearted one, of course, but it speaks volumes to the way the foundation has evolved over the years.

In 1991, the foundation began a transition into an employee-led group, one that's fully realized today. The work of “committee members” (Ben & Jerry’s employees who are on the grant selection teams) is considered part of their job at the company. As the foundation’s Director of Programs, Rebecca Golden, put it: “Our internal decision-making structure reflects our core commitment to empowering and elevating the voices of those traditionally without power.”

Given the ethos of this company, it's not surprising that the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is keenly aware of the relationships among economic justice, social justice, and immigration—and how they interrelate with literacy. Therefore, when it comes to literacy (or any education initiative) the foundation is especially focused on supporting organizations that empower and give authentic voice to people with the greatest need for literacy improvements, and programs that bridge issues of literacy, education, and protection.

The Ben & Jerry's Foundation calls its program Grassroots Organizing Through Social Change, and it's the foundation’s key program for distributing U.S.-wide support. Grants come in good-sized chunks. The foundation states it will award grants up to $25,000; in reality the vast majority fall within $10,000 - $20,000. 

The foundation only funds programs that are unquestionably grassroots-driven, focusing “on the types of activities and strategies an organization uses for creating social change rather than on the specific issues the organization is addressing” with a Theory of Change that “people most affected by a problem are in the best position to determine the solutions.”

These guiding principles are evident in the foundation’s recent grant of $17,500 to English for Action in Providence, RI, an organization that "links language learning with social change" through classes and community organizing. To learn more about the organizations supported by the foundation, explore its Grantees list.

Not surprisingly, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation has an open grant application process, with two LOI deadlines each year (typically April and October) for its Grassroots Organizing for Social Change program.

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