Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Ford Fund President Builds on Legacy of Philanthropy to Lead Global Transformation

DATE: Will be calculated from "Release Start Date" field.

Jim Vella talks with doctors at the Sanjeevi Primary Healthcare Center in Chennai
Related Materials
SHANGHAI, China — Jim Vella has a lot on his hands. As the man in charge of all philanthropic and community service-related activities for Ford Motor Company, Vella is overseeing an expansion of community programs at a rate that rivals the development of Ford’s global product strategy.
Ford’s corporate foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund, has supported community engagement programs since 1949 primarily in the United States. As Ford’s business turns increasingly global, the Fund’s approach to philanthropy is also poised for an international transformation.
“We are launching a program under a banner we call Operation Better World, which is a coordinated, strategic, One Ford approach to how we engage communities everywhere that Ford does business,” Vella said during a stop in Shanghai, on his first visit to Asia as president, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Relations. “In 2011, we had zero programs outside of the U.S. By the end of 2013, we will have Operation Better World programs through the Ford Motor Company Fund in about 30 markets.”
China and India are the first two markets outside the United States to receive support from the Ford Fund. Vella’s visit gave him an opportunity to see these initial projects at work.
“India and China are very important markets to us, and we felt there was a large community need that we could help to address,” Vella explained. “The pilot programs were also designed to help us learn how to best cooperate with non-profit partners in different markets.”
In Chennai, India, he helped to hand out certificates to a group of 55 women who had completed training in tailoring classes as part of a project operated by the Society for Poor People Development, a local NGO partner. He also visited the Sanjeevi Primary Health Care Center, a facility long supported by Ford India that provides basic but crucial medical care to villages near Ford’s Maraimalai Nagar facility. In addition to seeing these programs in action, his trip to India gave him the chance to meet with the local Ford teams in charge of implementing the programs, NGO partners, local media, industry associations and experts in corporate social responsibility.
In China, Vella helped kick off the 2013 China Better World program, and announced that the Ford Fund will for the first time award RMB2 million (US$326,000) in grants for Ford China’s long-standing Conservation and Environmental Grants China (CEGC) program. Established in 2000, CEGC provides grants for grassroots individuals and groups focused on environmental issues. To complement CEGC, Vella revealed the Fund’s plans to provide US$500,000 to Level Up!, a program in China designed to build up the capacity of local environmental organizations. Vella also sat down with NGOs, dealers and Ford employees to learn more about local community needs.
According to Vella, the Ford Fund will cooperate with NGO partners in four key areas as it continues to expand: education, auto safety, community needs and sustainability. The Fund will work to ensure that programs meet local community needs, align with the One Ford business plan, have a measurable impact and, where possible, can be replicated in other markets.
Although the scale of the Ford Fund’s expansion may be unprecedented, Vella said that it builds on Ford’s long legacy of serving the communities in which it operates.
“Henry Ford believed a business that does nothing but make money is a poor business. Today, Ford Fund is helping to deliver on that vision to help build the communities in which Ford Motor Company does business.”
Jim Vella sat down with @Ford Online to talk about his visit to Asia and the future of the Ford Motor Company Fund.
Q. What is the Ford Fund doing in Asia Pacific?
This is really the first time that the Ford Fund has ventured into the Asia Pacific region. Each market was already doing their part in giving back to their communities, but this is the first time the Ford Fund has been able to stretch its resources abroad. Our goal is to meet community needs in innovative ways that are measureable in terms of impact. For us, it’s not about writing a check, and it’s not about the amount of the investment. It’s about a grassroots engagement of the community, which includes our employees, our dealers and our partners, and it’s about creating an impact. It’s part of the DNA of our company. It’s something that we feel very strongly about, and it certainly exemplifies Bill Ford’s vision of Ford building a better world. It’s part of long-term strategic approach, and we will increase our investment as our business grows, and as we build stronger partnerships in the region with NGOs.
Q. What are the main opportunities and challenges that you see as the Ford Fund goes global?
A. I see huge opportunities. There’s a great appetite among Ford employees and our management to build a better world. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, there’s a lot of dedication, and at the same time there are a lot of needs in the communities where we do business. I think the challenge is to make investments that have impact, to find the right partners, and to have an approach in each market that makes sense for Ford. One of the big challenges is taking a global approach but having a local impact, because the needs are going to be different in many communities; cultures are going to be different, languages are going to be different. We’re going to need to make sure that we’re really tailoring our projects to meet regional and local needs.
Q. How do you ensure that the local and global efforts are complementary?
A. I think the fact that we’re here visiting the region goes a long way toward doing that because we’re communicating with the regional and local teams where our vision is, and they’re sharing with us where their vision is. And where those two visions start to cross will probably become the sweet spots for our programs. The fact of the matter is we’ve been doing these programs for a long time – it’s not like we’ve just started to decide to engage in corporate social responsibility in China or India or anywhere else. This is just the first time that we’ve had an integrated approach that’s funded centrally to some degree, and one that’s focused on the same general target areas. Our projects are very similar in different places, in the same way that we have global programs for vehicles.
Q. What are those areas?
A. The general guideline is that 80 percent of our philanthropy globally is targeted in four areas: education, auto safety, community needs and sustainability. The remaining 20 percent will be tailored to something that may be a need in a particular country, but that may not have implications in other areas. So, for example, in India, water is a big issue, but not so much in places like the U.S. But there are some central themes you see everywhere: Education is a very broad theme and a priority for us everywhere, because it helps build a stronger society, which allows us to build a stronger business. But at the same time, it’s a basic community need, at some level, whether you’re in China, or the U.S., or Europe or anywhere else. These broad themes seem to resonate everywhere you go, but it’s the local implementation that’s going to be the key to our success.
Q. Tell us a bit about what you did in India.
A. We visited our plant in Chennai and talked to plant management about what employees are already doing to serve their community. We looked at two programs in particular. One was the Sanjeevi medical clinic that’s across the street from the plant, which the plant has been funding for about 17 years, and where some of our company employees also volunteer. It’s a very, very basic facility, but it provides immense value to the community. We also went to another NGO, the Society for Poor People Development, which is teaching tailoring skills to women from those same villages who have no way to support their families. It was very touching for me to go there and see these women graduating from the program, talking about how for the first time in their lives they can see a way to support their families. It was also very impressive to see the level of involvement by our plant employees who also attended the ceremony, and who had been working with the women in the program. They were so proud to present certificates to those women. It was a very touching experience, and it’s a program that shows that we can make a difference in people’s lives.
Q. What is the main thing you’re taking away from this trip?
A. I think one of the lasting impressions will be from the enthusiasm that I’ve seen in the region from our employees, and how important this is to them. I think this just confirms that our decision to take the Fund programs globally makes sense, can be implemented, and will be valued by the teams. We really want to have a One Ford approach to how we engage the community. But at the end of the day, the strength of that approach is going to be based on the involvement of local teams and our employees, not on the amount of money we invest.
Q. So, what’s next?
A. Right now we are working with the teams to develop a five-year business plan to identify what the community needs are, what the One Ford business plan objectives are that should be aligned with our community engagement activities, and where our footprint is going to be. It will be the roadmap that we will use to drive all our community engagement activities. But again, I stress it’s not just about the dollars – it’s about getting employees involved, dealers involved, our joint venture partners involved where it makes sense. It’s about really making a connection with our NGO partners to reach these communities, and as I’ve said, it’s about creating an impact. It’s really hard work, but when you get it right it’s really satisfying work. When you go to meet the people who are impacted by what Ford and our employees are doing, and see how much we touch their lives – and in many cases change their lives – it’s really, really rewarding.
Jim Vella with women who received tailoring training through the Society for Poor People Development
Vella visited a dealership in Shanghai to learn more about how Ford’s dealers interact with the community
Employees in Shanghai shared their insight into local community engagement programs
At an event in Shanghai, Vella announced that Ford would raise the level of its CEGC grants this year to RMB2 million



6/20/2013 12:30 AM