President, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services
“Even during our most difficult financial times, we continued to emphasize community and volunteerism. That was obviously a very difficult situation for a company that was losing billions of dollars and letting people go. But despite these challenges, Ford’s leadership team felt that giving back to the community is part of who we are.”
Our founder Henry Ford believed that he could not build a strong business without a strong society and a strong community. That commitment has manifested itself over the decades in a number of ways, including through the volunteer work performed by our employees and through the Ford Motor Company Fund, which is focused on building strong communities everywhere we do business.
It’s one thing to say that volunteerism is in the DNA of a company. It’s another to be able to point to philanthropic relationships that have lasted generations. Case in point: Our relationship with Disabled American Veterans (DAV) dates back to 1922, when Henry Ford donated Model T’s to transport wounded soldiers to the organization’s second annual convention. We have supported this organization every year since.
Our efforts today are a logical extension of Henry Ford’s early vision, and having Henry’s great grandson, Bill Ford, at the helm of the company has pushed us even further. Bill Ford created the Ford Volunteer Corps after a devastating tsunami hit the Asia Pacific region in 2005. Bill asked us how we were responding, and we told him we had contributed $1 million toward relief efforts. He said, “That’s what every company does,” and planted the seed for the corps. Our first Volunteer Corps project helped to rebuild fishing villages, schools and community centers that were destroyed by the tsunami. Today, the Volunteer Corps organizes thousands of our employees in projects all around the globe.
Even during our most difficult financial times, we continued to emphasize community and volunteerism. That was obviously a very difficult situation for a company that was losing billions of dollars and letting people go. But despite these challenges, Ford’s leadership team felt that giving back to the community is part of who we are. We prided ourselves on being a good neighbor. And, with the auto industry as a whole in serious trouble, our neighbors needed us more than ever.
Having fewer resources meant we had to reconsider our charitable efforts because we couldn’t be all things to all people. We assessed the community needs and evaluated how they aligned with our business. As a result, today we focus on three key issues: community life (which might include hunger relief, health, veterans support and other areas), education and automotive safety.
We also look at the unique contributions that Ford can make, rather than simply donating money. For example, we turned our Transit Connect vehicles into mobile food pantries to deliver food to people in the suburbs of Detroit – individuals who had not historically needed such services. We used our extensive experience in material handling and logistics to become much more efficient at recovering and delivering food in quantities that would make a meaningful difference.
Education is another top priority for Ford Motor Company Fund because it is a building block for success. If you have a strong education, you can get a job at Ford or in other industries that build wealth and create a sustainable society. Without a sustainable society, we don’t have employees, we don’t have customers, we don’t have dealers and we don’t have shareholders.
We’re paying particular attention to developing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. From a parochial industry view, we need skilled employees to work at Ford and within our supply base to develop our next generation of products. From a broader perspective, our society as a whole needs more people to develop science and technology skills.
Our third area of focus is automotive safety. There is nothing more important to our company than the safety of our employees and our customers. Through our Driving Skills for Life program, we are teaching young people how to be safer behind the wheel. In emerging markets, such as China and India, the program focuses on first-time drivers – whether they are adults or teens.
Through all of our efforts, we work closely with our dealers, who truly are the face of Ford and are essential to helping us identify community needs.
One of the challenges of any community giving program is measuring impact and effectiveness. For example, we can tally how many meals we deliver to families in need – about 2 million in Michigan in 2013. But do we know if the kids we fed did better because they went to class on full stomachs? The entire nonprofit sector struggles with understanding such measurements. What we do know is that, over time, if we invest with the right partners and continue to do so strategically, we will make a difference in people’s lives.
Employee engagement is critical to our success. Employees want to be engaged with their communities and enjoy the opportunity to give back. We can truly make a much bigger impact on social issues when we combine our financial resources with our people resources. It’s not just about writing a check. It’s about having our people there to help meet basic needs.
Ford is in the midst of its biggest global expansion in more than 50 years, adding jobs and facilities in both traditional and emerging markets. As our company grows, our community engagement work is growing with it. The outreach of the Ford Motor Company Fund will be an important part of building our brand and reputation.
Ford has been part of our communities through good times and bad, including depressions and world wars. In the U.S. especially, many people view Ford and our dealerships as a vital part of their communities. That’s a unique attribute of this company. By engaging our people and our dealers on a one-to-one basis within our communities, we are more than a business. We are honoring Henry Ford’s original vision of community support, and at the same time building on the company’s legacy of giving back.
© 2014 Ford Motor Company