Some of the nation’s most critical efforts in strengthening democracy, reducing inequality, and advancing long-lasting social change happen in cities and at the state level.

From voting rights to reproductive justice, minimum wage increases to criminal justice reform, states—as our “laboratories of democracy”—have long been at the forefront of shaping national policy priorities, institutions, and public ideas that reflect the ideal of equal opportunity and the country’s evolving needs and aspirations. In the twentieth century, America’s state governments invented high school, Social Security, and automatic voter registration, to name just a few innovations.

The current moment is no different. So in 2017, the Ford Foundation launched an integrated, multi-theme initiative in a handful of states to expand democratic participation, racial and gender equity, and economic mobility.

We work to strengthen state-based and regional organizations, coalitions, and networks. Our support helps those committed to inclusive change combine approaches, such as grassroots civic organizing, policy and budget advocacy, and creative storytelling. Much of our support takes the form of flexible, multi-year grants that enable bolder campaigns and alliances to take shape.

Vital to this effort are investments that build the leadership, agency, and voice of low income rural and urban communities, and women and people of color—and, in so doing, bridge key divides. The desire to protect and strengthen our democracy and make government work for everyone is bringing together diverse constituencies to focus on shared concerns and our nation’s highest values, across lines of race, class, culture, gender, and geography. We believe this is critical to the larger effort to address inequality.