Community development requires a "holistic approach"

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker talks to Shelterforce, the journal of affordable housing and community building, about community development, how poverty works and Ford’s role as a connector. “The opportunity for philanthropy is the opportunity to reflect, to listen, to learn, to craft responses and solutions that are based and rooted in the ideas of people who live and work in the communities that you want to empower and help,” he says. “The opportunity [is] to be bold and to take risk and not be constrained by some of those limitations of the public and the private sector.”

Published in Shelterforce | March 18, 2014
Darren Walker: President, Ford Foundation
By Miriam Axel-Lute and Harold Simon


We first met Darren Walker about 15 years ago while planning an issue on faith-based development. Darren was the chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the storied community development arm of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City. We asked Darren to write an article that was not simply a cheerleader’s promotion of church-based CDCs, but a realistic assessment of the benefits and challenges to an institution embarking on that path.

Darren was optimistic and enthusiastic about the work he was doing at Abyssinian creating hundreds of units of affordable housing in Harlem. But he was pragmatic and realistic also. His article encouraged organizations to temper the enthusiasm necessary to even consider this work with a realistic analysis of an organization’s capacities and a clear-eyed examination of their assumptions about the rewards of creating a CDC.

Darren approached his work enthusiastically, I think, because he had visceral understanding of the challenges low-income folks had and the opportunities that were available to them with the right help. The kind of help that the stability of an affordable home could provide. His understanding came from personal experience that would inform his work wherever it took him, from law school to international finance, from a storefront afterschool program and Abyssinian to the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.

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The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.