Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 20, 2007

Ford takes a chance on change

In picking Luis Ubiñas as its ninth president, the Ford Foundation has given itself an opportunity to move beyond organized philanthropy’s fixation with business as usual.

That’s good news because, while it commits over half-a-billion dollars a year to addressing critical social needs and their root causes, Ford also devotes funds and its considerable clout to fighting change in the way foundations operate.

Ubiñas, 44, can work to change that.

The native of the Bronx in New York City comes to Ford from outside the closed and clubby world of philanthropy.

An 18-year veteran of McKinsey & Co. who leads the media practice on the West Coast for the global management consulting firm, Ubiñas has studied the impact of new technologies on business and society, and has worked both with traditional media companies and emerging technology companies.

He also is no stranger to nonprofits, having advised and served on the boards of groups like Bay Area United Way and Family Services of Greater Boston.

Urgent social problems, sweeping technological change and growing mistrust of social institutions have increased pressure on foundations and nonprofits to be more open, efficient and entrepreneurial.

Nonprofits also face huge challenges paying bills, strengthening operations and engaging their boards to help secure resources and build their organizations.

But while quick to demand change and improvement from nonprofits, too few foundations will invest in nonprofit operations or change the way they themselves do business.

And too many foundations, in denial about serious flaws in the charitable marketplace, or simply in defense of their turf, wealth and power, have fought efforts to strengthen regulation and policing of that marketplace to make its operations more fair, open and efficient.

Once he begins his new job in January, Ubiñas can be a voice and force for change.

He can guide Ford and enlist other foundations to support more effective regulation of the marketplace and to pay out more of their assets in more innovative ways to provide the capacity-building support nonprofits need while continuing to address critical social problems and their causes.

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