The Ford Foundation's BUILD initiative is a 6-year, $1 billion dollar commitment to building institutions and networks in support of social justice.

Flexible funding ensures grantees are firmly in the ‘driver’s seat’ of the Ford Foundation’s initiative to strengthen social justice around the globe

In its interim report evaluating the Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) grant-making programme, NIRAS highlights key learnings that continue to guide a shift toward more versatile, grantee-centered support.

23. Nov 2020

Back in 2015, the Ford Foundation launched a $1 billion effort to strengthen the long-term capacity and sustainability of social justice organisations around the world so that they can more effectively achieve their core missions and reduce inequality in all its forms. A key part of the BUILD commitment is to offer flexible, multi-year general operating support and dedicated funding for institutional strengthening that enables its 300 grantee partners to innovate, learn, take risks, and develop their work for the long term. Convenings, technical assistance, evaluation, and strategic communications are also part of the BUILD model.

Committed to learning from the approach – both to improve internal practices and share lessons with others in philanthropy working to advance social justice – the Ford Foundation selected NIRAS in February 2018 to conduct a Developmental Evaluation to assess whether and how BUILD is achieving these goals.

Following the evaluation’s first phase of data collection, the newly release Interim Report summarises the initial mid-term findings. It provides evidence and analysis to support real-time learning for the current iteration of the BUILD programme and the design of its second iteration (referred to as BUILD 2.0). The evaluation will continue into 2021.

A combination of critical success factors centred around flexibility

The Evaluation Team found that the BUILD approach is characterised by built-in synergies among flexibility, long-term timeframes, and ring-fenced commitments to institutional strengthening, which enable grantees to work more effectively towards mission achievement. That grantees are firmly ‘in the driver’s seat’ in determining what BUILD means to them is directly linked to the flexibility that allows them to strategise and act accordingly.

BUILD has supported grantees to expand, strengthen and better manage staff and volunteers while putting into place more formal institutional structures. Data shows that grantees’ systems for developing and managing their human resources were often dysfunctional before they scaled up. BUILD enabled them to address long-standing deficits while putting systems into place to better manage growth.

BUILD grants can contribute to a ripple effect, where not only does the grantee become stronger and more effective, but so do its closest partners, members, and stakeholders.

The grant programme has also created conditions for more strategic thinking and provided needed funds to put strategies into action. Paths to strategic coherence vary, though. Some organisations are undertaking strategic planning processes, while others are applying looser, less formal, and more iterative approaches. BUILD has been a ‘good fit’ for both.

Finally, BUILD grantees have leveraged Ford Foundation support to move from aspirations to actions in their engagement with networks, coalitions, and movements, especially where they are supporting smaller partners and amplifying partner voices. Grantees working at the grassroots level have strengthened systems to train, equip, and enable branches, community-level partners and frontline staff, and volunteers. To find out more about NIRAS’s findings and recommendations, please download the full report here.