a Family living on the amazon river in brazil. One of Ford’s new fellows, researcher and activist Davi Pereira Junior, is working on indigenous and traditional land rights in the region. CYSUN/shutterstock

a Family living on the amazon river in brazil. One of Ford’s new fellows, researcher and activist Davi Pereira Junior, is working on indigenous and traditional land rights in the region. CYSUN/shutterstock

As the pandemic persists and justice movements around the world mobilize to respond to its fallout, the Ford Foundation has chosen 24 social justice leaders to receive 18 months of support. These individuals from Brazil, the U.S., East and North Africa and the Middle East are the first participants in the newly launched Ford Global Fellowship, which follows its decade-long International Fellowships Program (IFP) that ended in 2013.

Rather than offering scholarships, as IFP did, the new program will direct a 10-year, $50 million investment to provide 10 cohorts of fellows with both group and individual development activities. The fellows all address inequality in various ways in the regions where Ford already operates, in line with the foundation’s broad commitment to funding equity and justice work. While international travel and place-based engagement were a core part of the initial plans for this new program, COVID-19 will force more activities to take place online. The global crisis also adds a new sense of urgency to the fellowship.

“The pandemic has laid bare the underlying inequalities that exist within our own countries and across countries. None of us can unsee what we have seen over these last weeks and months,” said Hilary Pennington, Ford executive vice president of programs. She added that social justice issues highlight our interconnectedness. Big challenges like pandemics and climate change have to be solved “by sourcing solutions and wisdom from all over the world and connecting people who have those insights, and who are the kinds of leaders we need for the future, who will lead us toward the better angels of ourselves,” she said.

Within the philanthrosphere, fellowships are a long-established model for cultivating talent and building networks and impact; juggernauts like the MacArthur, Packard and Sloan foundations all have their own high-profile programs. Ford has also created them to benefit equity-oriented artists and public-interest attorneys and technologists. And for close to 60 years, its signature Ford Fellows program has supported scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups in academia—its alumni include Condoleezza Rice, Cornel West and others.

Nuts and Bolts

Ford seeks social justice leaders who are mid-career and over 18, and who have demonstrated their success and power, but are poised to benefit from the foundation’s support. Fellows can come from the private, public or nonprofit sectors. They might be artists, academics or unaffiliated, but elected officials are prohibited.

Over 10 years, Ford plans to support 240 fellows, with future cohorts drawn from other areas where Ford already works, including Mexico and Central America, the Andean region, West Africa, Southern Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, Indonesia and China.

Fellows will receive $25,000 to support their participation and advancement during the program. They will attend several gatherings, receive coaching, and create an individualized learning plan with support from Ford. Fellows do not have to travel to new institutions or carry out new projects—Ford will partner with them in their current locations and endeavors.

The fellowship is led by Adria Goodson, who was previously the founding director of Hunt Alternatives’ Prime Movers fellowship program and chief program officer at the Pahara Institute, which focuses on supporting innovative leaders in public education. The curriculum is being created in partnership with the Institute of International Education.

Collaboration and network-building with other fellows and Ford team members will take place throughout the program. Pennington said the fellows are “joining Ford’s long-established community of leaders. The idea of fellowship is just as important as leadership.” She also said previous Ford fellows are “eager to connect with these people and help support them… Sometimes, there’s a benefit to being 80 years old.”

Multi-day convenings, site visits, guest speakers and more are all part of the vision for the program. The reality of the fellowship for the time being is that it must be virtual, and the first online convening took place in late May. The foundation still hopes the last of three planned gatherings can be in person.

In an FAQ document released in 2019, Ford stated that fellows would develop and facilitate some of the content and share responsibility for building the community from the ground up. Pennington said the fellowship will center the expertise of the participants, “construct a framework from their own lived experience,” and “not make a lot of assumptions about the best way to create deep relationships between them.” She said fellows have already curated “artifacts about themselves and stories and videos to share. I think we’re all learning about how you can be together in Zoom.”

Who Are the Ford Global Fellows?

Many of the participants come from impacted communities and have already exhibited creativity and leverage in their fields. They work toward an array of goals like securing voting rights for the formerly incarcerated and building power for LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities and migrant women. They work in research, journalism, progressive evangelism, business incubation, grassroots organizing, tech-based health care solutions, social cartography and more.

Social cartography maps various groups and identities, often with an intent to empower communities to build cultural and territorial self-definition and organizational capacity. For example, inaugural Ford Global Fellow Davi Pereira Junior, a Brazilian activist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, is part of the New Social Cartography of the Amazon Project (PNCSA).

Pereira was born in the traditional quilombola community of Itamatatiua and has firsthand experience with the local struggle for land rights. Through PNCSA’s mapping workshops and other programs, academics and participants in Pan-Amazon social movements work together to “strengthen territorial rights of traditional peoples and communities.”

The communities involved determine which factors mapping should concentrate on, such as multifaceted identities and “local denominations” like riverside dwellers (ribeirinhos), rubber tappers (seringueiros), artisans (artesãos and artesãs), and more. “So far, the maps have become supportive instruments managed by traditional peoples and communities for demands addressed to [and against] the state,” according to PNCSA.

Here, we see community-sourced, data-driven movement-building to support cultural and land rights and environmental justice. This is just one example of a new fellow engaging complex issues with local and global relevance in an innovative way.

What’s more, Ford expects its fellows to learn from one another, and mapmaking is a skill set that can be used by many social justice organizations. For example, PNCSA explains on its site that other minority groups, such as LGBTQ+ activists in Manaus, also make maps in efforts “to become visible to the state and other social agents.”

Pereira said he looks forward to learning from his colleagues’ experiences, sharing his own, “accelerating the impact of our individual work” and more. He believes “this fellowship will help to strengthen my leadership, my community, and our struggle.”

During the pandemic, Pennington said, the fellows are working for justice at a time when “some things seem suddenly possible that have been off the table for [so long].” That includes challenging neoliberal ideology that undermines the necessity of universal protections, insisting that markets will solve our problems and the role of government should be small.

“The public is ready to question that, and it’s maybe open to new ideas. The [fellows] are the kind of people who have those ideas, and who are already organizing in their local context.”

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