A Quick Look at the Ford Foundation's Funding of Chinese NGOs

We wrote not long ago about U.S. philanthropy in China, which has had a low profile lately. China, which now boasts the second-largest economy in the world, is no longer seen by many as a struggling country. In fact, though, China still has hundreds of millions of poor people. It has also a host of human rights problems. 

Related: A Great Wall of Funding? American Philanthropy and the Rise of China

The Ford Foundation is one funder that hasn't forgotten about China. It first started working in the country in 1979, and opened an office in Beijing in 1988, which is still in operation. The foundation has given over $275 million in grants in China.

Currently, the overaching goal of Ford's work in China is "to develop the social sector and help marginalized groups access opportunities and resources." Supporting efforts to improve human rights and strengthen civil society is a key part of its work. 

The human rights situation in China is challenging. You may have heard about China shutting down a social think tank, Transition Institute on Social Economic Research, a few years ago. At the time, the institute was affiliated with the public interest and civil rights group Gongmeng, which, before it was banned, helped to provide legal support to activists advocating for political representation, land rights, migrant rights and other civil reforms.

One chilling dimension of  the situation in China is that the government is focusing more scrutiny on foreign NGOs. Last spring, President Xi Jinping ordered what was referred to as a “penetrating” security analysis of foreign NGOs in China. This review applies to foreign NGOs with Chinese headquarters, like Ford.

The irony here, is that in 1979, the Chinese government actually invited Ford into the country to help “facilitate cooperation in the social sciences.” 

What's Ford doing these days in China? Here’s a quick glance at some of the foundation's grantmaking in China over the past year:

Nearly $950,000 in grants were made out of Ford’s Expanding Community Rights Over Natural Resources program. One of the largest grants of the year was a nearly $200,000 grant to the China Development Research Foundation to support its pilot studies on implement land system reforms to protect and improve control over land and land-based natural resources of rural communities and households.  

Close to $350,000 grants were made out of the foundation’s Reforming Civil and Criminal Justice program. Renmin University of China received one of the largest grants of around $160,000 to support the university's evaluation of the implantation of China’s revised Criminal Procedure law. The grant also went toward developing recommendations on ways to improve the implementation of the new laws.

Ford’s grantmaking out of its Strengthening Civil Society and Philanthropy program took a big year-over-year hit, with just two grants for $460,000 awarded—nearly 50 percent less than the total amount of grants awarded the year prior. The largest grant was awarded to Beijing Bei Neng Management Consultancy for its work in helping NGOs in Western China build capacity and create social work seminar sites.

Interestingly, Ford did not award any grants to Chinese-based NGOs out of its Youth, Sexuality and Reproductive Health program last year. In previous years, grant totals tended to hover around the $400,000 to $650,000 range. That may be changing, however, as the foundation recently awarded a $100,000 grant to the Guangdong Association of STD and AIDS Prevention and Control to help the LGBT-focused organization build a collaborative relationship with governmental organizations toward running sex ed programs in schools in the Guangzhou province.

Taking a look at Ford’s grants to Chinese NGOs over the past 10 years, the foundation’s total grantmaking in the country has seemed to hold steady at between $5 million and $7 million annually.

Related: Ford Foundation: Grants for Global Development