Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, the nation’s second-largest philanthropy, and for two decades has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. He led the philanthropy committee that helped bring a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy and chairs the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance. 

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation where he managed the rebuild New Orleans initiative after Hurricane Katrina. In the 1990s, as COO of Harlem’s largest community development organization, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, Darren oversaw a comprehensive revitalization program resulting in over 1,000 new units of housing, Harlem’s first commercial development in 20 years and New York’s first public school built and managed by a community organization. He had a decade-long career in international law and finance at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and UBS. He serves as a trustee of Carnegie Hall, New York City Ballet, the High Line, the Arcus Foundation, and PepsiCo.  

Educated exclusively in public schools, Darren received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor given by his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. In 2016, Time magazine named him to its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of 10 honorary degrees.



Ford Foundation President Darren Walker attributes much of his childhood, not as a detriment to his access to an outside world view, but as an enabler for opening his mind and a true motivator for his work today. In this personal conversation, Darren discusses strategic philanthropy, which he describes as organic and emergent and how his current role plays into building bridges between private philanthropy and social causes. Darren emphasizes to audiences how important it is to speak to people outside of the philanthropic community and to always be listening for new ideas. This talk will incite


As the leader of the second largest philanthropy in the U.S., Darren attributes his position and success to his early exposure to the arts. As a passionate advocate for visionaries and artists worldwide, he understands how artists provide an integral part in building social movements, as artists challenge the status quo. Too often we prioritize short-term gain over long-term good. In education, healthcare, development, business, and government, this thinking disrupts how we do participate in society today. Darren encourages audiences to think about how all industries can explore how the arts and creativity can intersect with and inspire their own work for social change and justice.  


In this talk based on his recent op-ed for The New York Times, Darren discusses America's internship-industrial complex. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Whether it's an internship, college admission, or any of the many other factors that determine a successful life, leaders who want to address inequality are reinforcing the dynamics that create inequality in their own lives. Darren discusses many options to amend these issues, including paying interns. By making internships more accessible to the masses, Darren argues that we can narrow the inequality gap while widening the circle of opportunity.  




His leadership is authentic, and his focus on equality is nothing short of revolutionary, a clarion call for the world of philanthropy and an inspiration to those of us working for a more just and loving world.