tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg January 23, 2022 10:00am-10:30am EST
>> one of the most influential figures in the world of philanthropy is darren walker. he has revolutionized it. he is also an influential figure in the world of culture and all -- arts. i had a chance to sit down with them about how he rose from very modest circumstances in texas to become such a leading figure in the world of philanthropy, culture and art. >> as the head of the ford foundation, where one of the most important people in the world of philanthropy. how has the world of philanthropy changed because of covid? >> i'm not sure i agree that i am the most important. i think i am part of a compilation of people lucky enough to lead foundations like macarthur, any of the great legacies. but covid has absolutely impacted how we do our work both internationally and domestically. let's start with internationally.
the reality of this moment is that we are seeing tremendous inequality in the ways in which vaccines are being distributed, the ways in which they are being manufactured, and the issues around intellectual property which are profound and are having a tremendous negative impact especially for people in africa and much of the global south. in the united states, we know that covid has meant that communities that are historically the most vulnerable are doubly impacted because of covid. what that has meant for full answer p is we have had to double down in some ways and also recognize that in the united states, the covid moment has coincided with the george floyd racial reckoning moment, and that has brought into stark relief the challenges for people
of color, especially low income communities. david: let's talk about the ford foundation. when covid came, you convinced of the ford foundation trustees and some others we will talk about to borrow money. you went out and borrowed $1 billion. why did you need to do that? darren: if you recall at the beginning of covid, back in march and april of 2020, the markets were very choppy. what i was concerned about was on the one hand, on the needs side, we were hearing from many organizations working on food security and direct services that they were in huge distress. remember organizations had no revenue. the nonprofit fundraisers had been canceled. donors were beginning to get a little nervous about pledges. we would see the need to increase our spending while at the same time error denominator,
our endowment was going down in value. and i have seen that happen in the last down on the market cycle where the need went up and the endowment went down. in order to really address the needs while maintaining good fiscal responsibility of managing the endowment, and of course, because of the luck of having jerome powell in charge of the fed and basically announcing in the middle of march that money was re-, basically -- free, basically, it made it really quite possible for us to think about data as opposed to taking money out of the endowment. so it was really just a matter of arbitrage. david: was it hard to convince your testes to do that? darren: initially, they thought it was out-of-the-box. one investment committee started to think about the options. david: were you able to get
other large foundations to do the same? darren: there were a number of foundation to have done this. mcarthur, kellogg's. we now have probably eight or 10 who have issued bonds. but the bigger message was that we needed to do more. that simply going by the irs minimum of 5% payout in the time of covid, ultimately when we had more money than ever, it simply was not morally defensible. david: let's talk about george floyd. you lived through the civil rights revolution in the 60's and we had a post-civil rights efforts in the 70's. but it seems as if not until george floyd was murdered did some people in the corporate world and government take seriously the discrimination and other challenges african-americans face. was that your perception that george floyd had an incredible impact, more than you thought of murder might have had? darren: i think what was different is that first, we were
all at home as a country. and secondly, this was fully videotaped. from the moment he was put on the ground until his last breath. and that it was photographed, that it was videotaped, and that the perpetrator was fully aware that he was killing someone and clearly assumed that he could do that with impunity. i think that is what we americans -- the average american found so appalling and so antithetical to our values as a people. and so it had a huge impact far beyond the issue of policing and civil rights. david: the boardroom now, there is a big ever to have more african-americans and more women
on boards. do you think that will last, or is it just for a short time after the george floyd murder? darren: there is no doubt that some of the rhetoric from some ceos was performative. but i believe that we are seeing a real paradigm shift, where we understand that diversely in the board room is more than one. i've been a member of some public company boards and there was a time when they would be one black and one hispanic and maybe one or two white women, and you had diversity. i think we understand that is really tokenism. diversity is fully embracing the idea of the intersection of talent and representation. david: do you think discrimination against african-americans is greater than discrimination against people who are gay? darren: i think that race is a very challenging feature of american lives and when you look at the progress of lgbt and you
think about something like marriage equality, which polled in the low double digits as recently as 50 years ago and now in majority of americans support, i think part of the reason for the progress is because most americans, most white americans could relate. they could relate to generous coming out on abc on national tv because she was the girl next door that they had fallen in love with for five seasons. they could relate to some of the people who were on the front lines leading the efforts and the marches. they knew that these young people with their children and grandchildren -- it is harder on the issue of race. in this country, we have a difficult history.
i love the united states of america because i know that there is no country in the world where my story would be possible . i revere the founding fathers in spite of their flaws because they made it possible to actually fix the problems they didn't have the courage or the will to. i believe that we have to deal with that fundamental history, the contradictions and complexities of this country. darren: there is no doubt that being a public company ceo today is one of the hardest jobs in
america. along with being president of a university, there is no harder job i do think that this move that the business roundtable has started to advance away from scholer -- shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism is better. it means that we won't be slavishly, singularly focused on the issue of shareholder values and the price of stock as the metric for success of a company. it doesn't mean that has to be primarily important, but you have to take into consideration the concerns of the other stakeholders, which often come down on occasion to social issues. and i think it is hard to navigate that and each country has to make its own decision, but my view on it is as corporate boards become more
diverse, it is going to be harder to ignore these kinds of social issues. david: do you have any interest in ever running for office or anything? darren: no, i am not qualified temperamentally or otherwise to be in elected office. i admire our elected officials and i admire the idea of public service and i regret that in our country, this idea of serious, we have lost that in our country. i think this is deeply regrettable. david: let's talk about how you became the head of the ford foundation and your background.
you are not from new york city. darren: i am definitely not from new york city. i was born in a charity hospital in louisiana, a little town not far from lafayette and baton rouge. david: and you were raised by a single mother. darren: yeah. david: and you grew up in texas more than louisiana. darren: we moved to texas when i was a little boy. david: and you went to university of texas. darren: i am proud to say that i have never attended a day of private education in my life from headstart through law school. public education was the path. david: so you went to university of texas. how did you do? darren: i did ok. david: were you president of the student government? darren: i was the head of a number of organizations and i was very lucky because i lived at a time in this country when i knew in spite of the challenges that i faced as a boy, as a
young man, that my country was cheering me on. i never for a moment felt that my dreams and aspirations could not be achieved, and i never felt that america didn't want anything for me but success. yes, i had a good guy and in college and law school that has brought me to new york, but the tailwinds were with me. david: you must have suffered some discrimination in texas or louisiana as an african-american. was it difficult or not? darren: of course. there were countless occasions when i faced discrimination. or when i faced people saying things to me that were heartless and harmful and difficult to hear. i recall that haskell when i won an election for student council -- high school when i won an
election and the friend of the person who lost him he told me that no matter how successful i might be in the future that the most successful black man in america would always be below the least successful white man in america. i was told this when i was 16. imagine hearing that, but also, who taught a 16-year-old that idea? and so i think about that when you ask questions like this. sure, i did. but what i actually worry about is that that kind of thinking is instantiated in some segment of our society which is so harmful to our democracy. david: so you graduate university of texas and you had to new york and you went to a very famous law firm. did you want to be a great
corporate law partner? >> no, i didn't want to be. what i wanted not to the ever again was poor. i did not want to be poor. when you grow up on the precipice of an economic collapse in your own family, when you're a kid and you are waiting for your mother to pick you up at school after a debate tournament and she never turns up and you walk home and you find out it is because her car was repossessed, that leaves a profound mark on your psyche. to be completely candid, i didn't want to be poor. and i didn't choose a career path to wall street because i loved the law or because i loved
asset-backed collateral. i like the idea of some semblance of financial security for me and my family. david: so you made some money and then you went to ubs in the financial services world, as it is now called. then you left to go work in a nonprofit in harlem. why did you do that? darren: for me, it was never about piling up money. for me, it was ultimately about service. david: so you did that for a number of years and you joined the rockefeller foundation and you rose up to be in charge of areas international programs. then you were recruited to go to the ford foundation. darren: ford was a much larger foundation, about three times the size of rockefeller. it was a lateral move. david: ford was looking for a new president and you were one of the candidates. i understand that you went into the interview and said i am going to change this completely if i get this job. i am going to focus on social
inequality and make everything dealing with social inequality our focus. is that right? darren: what i said with the foundation was too disparate the organized and that we had lost our focus and that we needed a single northstar for our work, which we did not have and really never had. david: so you announce we are going to focus only on equality and so forth. what did typical recipients say? darren: part of it is stepping back and asking why did we focus on inequality? the reason i believed inequality was important was because of our mission. a part of our mission as established by henry for the second was to strengthen democracy and democratic practice in the u.s. and abroad. i believe that among the greatest threats to our
democracy is growing hopelessness and hopelessness occurs in society where there is a high level of inequality. and so the correlation of inequality and hopelessness is what is a threat to our mission. the goal was to get people to understand new matter what you are working on, if it is having some impact on poor people because of the growing inequality in the world. david: you get the job, you convince the board to do this. but then you have to convince your staff people to change what they have been doing for so many years. was that hard to do? >> it was not without difficulty, it was not without some long-term employee is leaving the foundation. it was not without some long-term grant organizations leaving. david: did you feel you need security? darren: the role of foundation
leaders like me is such a great privilege. this is not about me as a person. i am under no fantasy or misunderstanding of why you say i may be in demand. i am not in demand because darren walker is that interesting of a person. i am in demand because i am president of the ford foundation and when i am no longer president of the ford foundation i can assure you i will have lots more time to have dinner with you. david: the jeff bezos fortune. he is giving away money, his former wife is giving away money. is that a model? darren: no other country in the world has the diversity of ways of giving as we do in the united states. i celebrate every time a new
david: the united states in the early part of the 20th century and then in the mid part of the 20th century welcomed people like john deere d rockefeller and henry ford, set up foundations where they would take their staff or other assets and then the foundation would be coming to some extent, controlled for a while by families. eventually, families would not be controlled. henry ford famously got off the foundation board many decades ago because he wasn't happy with the ford foundation. you have reengaged the ford family. was that hard to do? darren: it is true that he was happy about a lot of the work of the ford foundation but he was unhappy. he was unhappy because the work that we did in the american south to advance integration and
to support efforts to deem the legal discriminatory practices was a problem because southern dealers felt the displacing of southern consumers. henry for the second was hearing from ford motor company dealers that the consumers didn't want to buy our cars. so he decided to leave. we have been independent of the ford family and ford motor company for over six decades. i believe that it was critically important for us to reengage the ford family. this is where the money came from. it was important to reengage in the city of detroit, and this is why we played a pivotal role in that bankruptcy. re-engaging with the ford family was easy. bill ford and his mother are among the most amazing people i know, and they were happy to reengage, and so two years ago
we elected henry for the third -- henry ford the third to our board. david: as i mentioned earlier, what happened earlier is a lot of prominent people, when they get to be 60, 70, maybe 80, they set up these foundations. now a lot of people are getting very wealthy in their 30's, 40's and 50's and they just kind of give away the money in ways. is that the new model, something like what is being done with, let's say, the jeff bezos fortune? he is giving away money, his former wife is giving away money. is that a new model or do you think the traditional model will stay as the model for large philanthropic foundations? darren: i think the model of philanthropy has over many decades continue to exist but the exciting thing about this moment is that there are new
models and you mentioned does covertly terrific ones like jeff bezos is doing or the zuckerberg's are doing. all of these are part of a landscape of philanthropic communities which we should celebrate. no country in the world has the diversity and ways of giving that we do in the united states. i celebrate every time a new foundation is created in whatever form. david: not a billionaire, just an average person. why should you want to give away your money? why not just buy things for you and your family? darren: first of all, some of the best philanthropists in this country are small donors. they understand what it is like to work really hard and for many of them, they don't have a disposable income, and yet they give to their church, they give to their food pantry, they give to their homeless shelter.
and that is because in this country, there is a civic imperative of the individual to do what he or she can to make a difference in improving our communities. i celebrate those small, impactful donors, but i also worry that for many wealthy people, the idea of giving often is not driven by a sense of just making a difference, but of making a difference with strings attached. it is making a difference, but doing it the way i want it on rather than the way experts might say. david: you and i served on the national gallery of art board and every arts institution i know of once you to serve on their board. what is it about art that attracts you? darren: art is essential in a
democracy. art is so important. we know what art does for young people. we know that exposure to art brings about higher levels of empathy. it helps people understand how other cultures, other people live, and it just brings out the kind of humanity in all of us. there are times when i have observed leaders use language that is inhumane while talking about other human beings, while talking about the world, and i think to myself, this person has clearly never engaged in poetry. they've never listened to the words of a great playwright. they have never sat and reflected on a beautiful
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