Margaret Hempel, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Director, Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Justice Program

FUNDING AREAS: Sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive sexual education programs, HIV/AIDS, gender-based and sexual orientation discrimination

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IP TAKE: Hempel’s grant making at Ford is varied. But she has said that what really excites her and the foundation is the linking of research to the public conversation and creation of public policy. She is also concerned with the role civil society plays in addressing the issues on which she works.

PROFILE: Margaret Hempel's portfolio addresses the advancement of sexual and reproductive rights. Her team's grantmaking activities cover Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, China, Indonesia, India and the United States. The underlying purpose of all of these grants is to address the socioeconomic conditions that contribute to poor sexuality and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) outcomes, to improve access to and quality of sex education, and to support sexuality research relevant to these ends.

Her team's grants tend to the six-figure range, and they cover a broad array of topics that come under SRHR. For example, her team recently awarded:

  • $200,000 to American University in Beirut to promote youth reproductive health in Lebanon and Egypt in particular and the Arab world more generally. The funds will be used to “disseminate research findings, compile e-resources and establish a regional working group” to further this goal.
  • $160,000 to Beijing Forestry University's Institute of Sexuality and Gender Studies. The money will help “develop and disseminate teaching materials for sexuality education in secondary schools.”
  • $500,000 to the US-based International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society. IASSCS will use the money to “strengthen both research & research capacity on the sociocultural dimensions of sexuality, with special attention to promoting research equity in the Global South & disseminating research findings.”

At a recent conference held by the Population Council, Hempel noted that a key to better SRHR outcomes is improving the situation of girls in society as they become young women. For instance, “many girls lack positive language with which to describe their sexuality, desires, and experiences.” To overcome this, Hempel states, “it is critical to promote a healthy sexual identity among girls that allows them to develop appropriate boundaries, take pride in their bodies, and make decisions that affect their health.”

This perspective means that grant requests can come at the problems from a vast number of directions, because the changes she seeks are themselves quite broadly defined.

Hempel is currently in her second tenure at the Ford Foundation, which began in 2008 as head of SRHR. She also spent the 1990s as a program officer and then deputy director of the human development and reproductive health unit.

In between, she was at American Jewish World Service, at the Ms. Foundation for Women, as well as several international agencies in China and Burma.

Hempel has a bachelor's degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University and earned her master's at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.