DEARBORN - Ford President of the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services Jim Vella recently sat down with Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields for a conversation on Ford's philanthropic efforts on The Americas Webcast. Below is an excerpt from that discussion.
Q: What is the Ford Fund responsible for?
A: The Ford Fund is the corporate foundation for the company so we're really responsible for our philanthropic efforts not only here in the U.S. but around the world. This is different from the Ford Foundation which was established by the Ford family years ago but that no longer has any affiliation with the company.
Q: What are the three main areas that the Ford Fund focuses its efforts on?
A: First, we try to align everything we do with the company, with the business objectives of the company. We're part of the business plan of the company so that’s important to remember this is part of our business. And the three areas that we focus on are automotive safety – that’s a no-brainer really, that goes right along with what we're trying to tell our customers that our products are about; education because that’s really our lifeline for the future; and then what we call community needs or basic services. Helping people drive a better future. So that people have a brighter tomorrow so that they can continue to be our customers, our shareholders and our employees down the road.
Q: What is new for the Driving Skills for Life program?
A: Driving Skills for Life is probably one of our most visible programs across the country and it's doing great work. We realized that one of the issues that we face, and our customers are facing, is teen drivers. For anybody who has ever given their child those keys for the first time and sending them off, a lot of what they're getting in the classrooms today – a lot of those programs have been cut back. So the training that they're receiving is really about how to get a driver's license, it's not about how to drive safely on the road. This year, we put together a road tour that visited 20 different cities. Next year we're going to expand that even further to more cities where we go to high school campuses and have a safety day. We not only teach the kids, we get them out in skid cars and teach them about how to leave enough space between them and the car in front of them so if there is an issue the know how to confront it. We teach them about driving distraction, we give them some examples about what they can do to stay out of trouble and if they get into trouble how they get out of it safely. We are also working with the teachers and having assemblies and we're including our dealers in all that as well. It's really taking a need that is out in the community and saying 'What can we do best' – and that’s to use our products to teach young people how to be safe on the road.
Q: The economy has devastated many and there are a number of hungry families out there. Can you share some background on efforts Ford Fund has harnessed to confront this issue?
A: We've got some national programs that we're doing as well as local programs, especially in the Operation Goodwill cities. We use our mobile food pantries, and our Transit Connects to deliver and pick up food. It's kind of like doing a milk run where they go out and pick up food in the morning then deliver that food. We were able to deliver about 900,000 meals to hungry people this year. And we're going to continue to grow that because really, without being able to have a good meal you can't go look for a job and you can't do well in school. And really about one-in-six Americans are facing issues when it comes to being able to feed their families. So it’s a big issue, we play a big role and what we bring to it is transportation. I think the numbers of those needing food assistance is growing larger because we are seeing Federal programs being cut as well as state programs being cut. That’s going to be an area where we're going to continue to focus on as a company and throughout the Ford team really.
Q: Let's talk about volunteerism because obviously Ford is very active in that regard. We have thousands of employees all over the country giving their time to give back to their communities. Tell us a little about some things they have done.
A: We really have, just as we have best-in-class products, I think we have best-in-class volunteerism. And it's because of all our employees. It's one of those things where people in other company's will say 'How do you get your employees to do that?' We don't have to ask. It's about who we are, it's in the DNA of our employees and it's in the DNA of our company. So this year, we estimate that we are going to have about 25,000 of our employees who have volunteered their time – approximately 115,000 hours, which is up from last year. If you put a dollar amount on that it's about $2.3 million. In addition that, we're contributing to the financial resources that we're able to bring through the generosity of the company. It's really a powerful tool and it makes a direct connection between the people in the community and Ford Motor Company. When they see those people out there and they're wearing their Ford volunteer T-shirts … and we have those signs out in front that say 'Ford volunteers are here today' it really makes you proud to be part of the company.
Q: Can you explain how serving the community makes good business sense?
A: About four years ago, we conducted customer research actually asked customers what they thought about this whole issue of what kind of companies that they like to do business with. What we learned was when they are made aware of the good work that the company is doing – by providing financial resources, employee volunteerism and all that – their image of the company went up, the brand went up and they were more likely to consider a Ford product. So we still have to build great products that have all the features, have a great price, provide great value and have great service in all those things. But customers are more likely to say if everything else is equal, 'I'm going to buy a Ford.' I can't tell you how many people at our community events and they come up to us after and say 'I haven't had a Ford before, but I'm certainly going to go in and shop your store now.' That’s a win-win for us because it allows us to continue to make those value investments that we want to make in the community. Everything we do is an investment. We don’t give away a dime – we make good investments that have a good return for Ford and for the community.
Q: What's the view for 2012 and some things that the Ford Fund is going to be doing?
A: The main strategy is going to stay the same. We're going to continue to focus on those areas that we talked about; education, automotive safety and community needs. We are starting to expand a little bit globally this year for the first time we're going to do some more things in places like India and China. As our business grows in those countries, we have a responsibility there as well. We're going to continue to build and partner our efforts with our union employees in our communities. We're going to do a big project here in Detroit that folks are going to be hearing about and we're going to continue to look for ways to bring an impact on things like hunger and education and really building a brighter future for us all. All really important stuff and I think to your point earlier it shows we are different as a company.