A conversation with
President, The Ford Foundation
Faculty Director, The Hauser Center
November 12, 2008
12:00 – 1:30 PM Bell Hall (HKS Belfer Building, 5th Floor)
President of the Ford Foundation Discusses Trends in Philanthropy
November 13, 2008
By Laura Johnston, The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations
President of the Ford Foundation Luis A. Ubiñas said the foundation is fighting for fairness during a seminar hosted by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations on Nov. 12 at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“The Ford Foundation derives its meaning from its patriotic sense that what makes this country sustainable and unique is that domestically and internationally we present this idea of fairness,” he said.
The seminar was a public conversation led by Christopher Stone, Hauser Center faculty director and Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice, in which Ubiñas discussed current trends in U.S. philanthropy, ambitions for the Ford Foundation and the nonprofit sector.
For example, he refocused the foundation’s areas of work from 208 initiatives to about 30, which allows the foundation to spend six to eight times more resources on the programs. He is also experimenting with a new strategy of “strategic resource allocation” in which resources across those areas are distributed according to strategic interventions, in contrast to the more traditional, even distribution of funds across all programs.
Ubiñas acknowledged that although he hopes the strategic changes and restructuring will have significant upsides, there are some potential downsides in increased rigidity.
“We lose the serendipity, that magical moment when something unplanned, unexpected happens,” he said.
Steven Lawry, Hauser Center senior research fellow, asked Ubiñas how to ensure that the ground-breaking ideas still play a leading role in shaping what Ford does. Ubiñas said he does not “accept that notion that you have to be disorganized to identify cutting edge ideas” and cited the model of venture capital in the business sector:
“They manage to identify the scrappiest, most isolated individual they can find, and they find them somehow and magically fund them.”
Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Ubiñas was a director at McKinsey & Company where he led McKinsey’s Media Practice on the West Coast of the United States, advising Fortune 100 media, telecommunications and technology companies on major strategic and operating challenges.
Ubiñas also has a distinguished record of leadership in the nonprofit sector, advising senior management and serving on the boards of Leadership Education and Development (LEAD), a national organization providing educational opportunities to low-income African-American and Latino high school students, the Bay Area United Way and the Steppingstone Foundation.
Luis A. Ubiñas became the ninth president of the Ford Foundation in January 2008, following a national and international search by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. He succeeds Susan V. Berresford, who served the Foundation for 38 years, the last 12 as president.
Mr. Ubiñas was previously a Director at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, where he worked for 18 years. Based in San Francisco, he led McKinsey’s Media Practice on the West Coast of the United States, advising Fortune 100 media, telecommunications and technology companies on major strategic and operating challenges.
While at McKinsey, Mr. Ubiñas led research on the impact of new technologies on business and society, worked with traditional media companies responding to the effects of new media, and with emerging technology companies on the introduction of new media services. Much of his work was long-range in nature, requiring years to conceive and implement. He led projects around the world, including many of the locations where Ford has field offices, including China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil and Chile. Mr. Ubiñas has spoken extensively on trends in the communications arena at universities and industry forums, including multiple keynote addresses to the World Association of Newspapers. He was a leader in developing McKinsey’s Boston Office and Global Media Practice. He also founded McKinsey’s Latino recruiting and mentoring group to introduce and cultivate diverse talent at McKinsey.
Mr. Ubiñas has a distinguished record of leadership in the nonprofit sector, devoting much of his personal time and energy to working with nonprofits to accomplish their missions. He has advised senior management and is currently on the boards of Leadership Education and Development (LEAD), a national organization providing educational opportunities to low-income African-American and Latino high school students, and the Bay Area United Way. He spent seven years advising and serving on the board of the Steppingstone Foundation. His many pro bono efforts at McKinsey included work with the After-School for All Partnership in Boston and Family Services of Greater Boston.
Mr. Ubiñas earned an AB (magna cum laude in Government) at Harvard College where, among other honors, he was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar and a John Winthrop Scholar. As an undergraduate, he also studied at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and earned a certificate in Latin American Studies from Harvard. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he graduated as a Baker Scholar. Early in his career, Mr. Ubiñas interned as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Ubiñas is a native of the South Bronx. He is married to Deborah L. Tolman, Professor of Human Sexuality Studies and founding Director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University and Visiting Professor of Psychology and Public Health at Hunter College in New York. They have two sons.