group photo
Ford Foundation representatives and BUILD grantees gathered for an event in New York City last September.

Exciting new report published on the Ford Foundation’s BUILD initiative to strengthen civil society organisations

NIRAS is engaged in the developmental evaluation of the grant-making programme aimed to understand whether the initiative is successfully achieving its objectives.

24. Feb 2019

Now more than ever, the pursuit of social justice and equality is necessary. These changes are often driven by civil society organisations, most of which depend on donor funding for survival. However, the current trends in funding support as well as various forms of instability worldwide mean that these organisations face more pressure than before.

In response to this, the Ford Foundation launched BUILD (Building Institutions and Networks), a five-year grant-making initiative of USD 1 billion aimed at strengthening up to 300 civil society organisations. This initiative is different from most other donor practices, as BUILD introduces another way to support civil society through a combination of grant-making strategies that include unrestricted general operating support, multi-year commitment, core support for institutional strengthening, convening of grantees to share their learning, and technical assistance.


Reflecting this, BUILD has two objectives:

  1. Foster a measurably stronger, more powerful set of civil society organizations and networks working to address inequality around the world.
  2. Develop understanding within the Ford Foundation, and ultimately throughout the field of philanthropy, about how strengthening key institutions can advance social justice.

Learning lessons to foster understanding

In order to understand whether BUILD is successfully achieving its objectives and to learn about the process, the Ford Foundation has commissioned NIRAS to conduct a developmental evaluation. The evaluation, set to run in three phases from 2018 to 2021, aims to:

  • Examine BUILD’s contribution to the internal strengthening of grantee organizations and networks,
  • Examine BUILD’s contribution to networks and fields of social justice organizations becoming more effective, and
  • Provide a deeper understanding of how internal strengthening can help advance programmatic goals of addressing inequality.

The familiarisation phase, the first of three phases, drew to a close in February with the publication of the Familiarisation ReportThe next developmental evaluation phase focuses on initial trend analysis and runs from November 2018 to June 2019. The final evaluative phase will take place from July 2019 to March 2021.

While the evaluation is still in its early stages, BUILD’s funding approach and technical assistance is promising as a transformative approach to social justice grant-making.

A key takeaway from the report is that dedicated focus on institutional strengthening enables grantees to work more intentionally and strategically. The commitment to five years of predictable funding enables grantees to focus on reflective, strategic, and structured strengthening of their organisations, networks, and partnerships.

How successfully this support will lead to social change remains to be seen, but NIRAS will be accompanying the Ford Foundation on the process every step of the way.