Texas-Raised Ford Foundation President Says Inequality Is Most Important Issue

“Unfortunately today, too many systems devalue young people.”

By Joy DiazMay 20, 2016 11:59 am

Darren Walker, who was raised in east Texas by a single mother, was one of the country’s first kids to benefit from the Head Start program. Today, after a distinguished career in international law and high finance – and a detour teaching in Harlem – Walker is president of one of the largest, most influential foundations in the world. He is in the process of transforming the Ford Foundation into a force to fight inequality.

“Today, I think our society has become far more punitive and far less tolerant of any misgivings, any misdeeds by young people. Particularly poor young people, and young people of color. And what happens is, young people at an early age are ensnarled in a system that in many ways devalues them,” Walker says. “I always felt valued by my education system. Unfortunately today, too many systems devalue young people.”

In fall 2015, Walker announced a sweeping new initiative to address global inequality. But of all the issues facing the U.S. today, from food security and education to the environment, why inequality?

“The Ford Foundation is dedicated to the idea of a more fair, peaceful and just world,” Walker says. “Inequality is probably the greatest threat to that. And in the United States in particular, inequality matters. Not because I care about economics, but because I care about the idea of opportunity and social mobility. Inequality is harmful to social mobility, to the kinds of opportunity that we all believe we should have in society. If you care about opportunity, you should care that we are becoming an increasingly unequal society.”

What you’ll hear in this segment: 

– How Walker was influenced by the Head Start program as a child

– Why inequality is the Ford Foundation’s main pursuit

– The role of American philanthropy in today’s society