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Notre Dame inaugurates Kellogg’s Ford Family Program

Joseph McMahon | Friday, September 26, 2008

At the Notre Dame World Heath Forum in 2006, University President Fr. John Jenkins announced the creating of the Millennium Development Initiative, which would encourage Notre Dame students become more involved in developing economies in Africa. Two years later, what originally started as a small initiative housed within the Office of the President has grown, with the help of a $6 million dollar donation from W. Douglas and Kathy Ford, into the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity – a comprehensive academic institution which focuses on human development that was inaugurated Thursday.

“[The Millennium Development Initiative] was a great project with a lot of potential, but it wasn’t an academic part of the University,” assistant director of the Ford Program Tim Lyden said. “We were limited by our status as an initiative.”

World-renowned Oxford economist Paul Collier, who recently published a new book titled “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It,” also spoke at the inauguration and praised the new program.

“[The Ford Family Program] offers the alliance between philanthropy and youth, and that is the alliance that is going to change the world,” he said.

A new addition to the Kellogg Institute, the Ford Family Program “seeks to build a transnational and interdisciplinary alliance of scholars, public servants, conscientious citizens and institutional partners to address critical challenges confronted by those living in extreme poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to the program’s brochure.

Director of the Kellogg Institute Ted Beatty said he welcomed the new program into the Institute because it shared in the common goal of promoting research that had a positive impact of the lives of others.

“The primary reason [the Ford Program became a part of Kellogg] is it fits exactly with our long standing mission of promoting social science research,” Beatty said.

Director of the Ford Family Program Fr. Bob Dowd said he had three main goals – teaching about extreme poverty, researching those conditions and engaging members of those communities.

“The very basic goal of the Ford Program is to realize Notre Dame’s mission, and that is channeling the incredible power of the human mind towards promoting the common good,” he said. “More specifically the Ford Program is devoted to, first of all, expanding and enhancing the opportunities that Notre Dame students have to study development in the classroom.”

The efforts in the classroom will include the hiring of new faculty members and the introduction of a new interdisciplinary minor in international development studies.

“[The new courses] could fall into any major, but what we would like to do is explore the possibility of introducing an interdisciplinary minor in international development studies,” Dowd said.

Currently, the Ford Family Program is building on the relationships previously developed by the Millennium Development Initiative in the Ugandan towns of Ruhiira, a cluster of eight villages, and Nnindye, a collection of 12 villages located 10 miles west of Uganda Martyrs University, the country’s premier Catholic university.

“Uganda is an incredible country,” Ford Family Program founder and member of the University Board of Trustees W. Douglas Ford said. Ford, along with his wife Kathy and son Matt, visited the country with Dowd in the early summer of 2007. “The thing that struck us most was that you have these people who, by American standards, are living very modestly to say the least, and you have the joy of helping the people out.”

Kathy Ford said the family was looking to start a social justice program at Notre Dame for some time, and after visiting Uganda with Dowd, she and her husband decided to found the program.

“Being in Uganda was really almost life changing. The needs were enormous, but so was the spirit of the people, willing to work with the [Catholic] Church and find ways within themselves to improve the lives that they’re living. We have a lot of confidence in this program,” she said.

Dowd said the Congregation of the Holy Cross has been involved with Uganda since 1958, making it the natural choice for the starting point for the Ford Program. Eventually, Dowd said he would like to see the program expand beyond Uganda into other parts of Africa and possibly onto other continents.

“We didn’t spin the globe and just point to Uganda, we are involved with Uganda because we have strong ties there dating back to 1958,” he said. “Our plan is to expand gradually over time. We do plan to expand within Africa, but it’s quite possible that we would even expand beyond Africa sooner rather than later.”

Lyden said the partnership with Uganda Martyrs and Nnindye is a type of community engagement that is one of the cornerstones of the Ford Family Program.

“Community engagement is partnering with local communities and people and working with them to come up with a plan to pull themselves out of poverty,” he said. “Our most important partners are the people on the ground living and working in these villages.”

However, because Notre Dame lacks an agriculture department, the Ford Family Program formed another partnership with Purdue University in order to help improve farming techniques in Nnindye and Ruhiira.

“I think it was mutual interest which brought us together,” Purdue professor of Agricultural Economics Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer said. “The effort is really directed to create a partnership between Notre Dame, Uganda Martyrs University and Purdue, which would work on improving the standards of living in the county which is right around Uganda Martyrs and eventually in the rest of Uganda.”

Dowd, however, was quick to note the majority of the work must be done by the villagers themselves if the Ford Family Program is to be successful, and the role of outsiders is simply to support the people living in poor conditions rather than directly intervene.

“Development projects that are driven by the agendas of outsiders almost always fail. One thing we have learned is that good intentions are not enough,” he said. “We’re devoted to working with people at the grassroots level.”

Angola- native Guerra Freitas, who is the director of the philanthropic group Share Circle, which is currently working to found Angola Central Highlands University, agreed with Dowd’s point about Africans helping themselves. Freitas said one of the best agents for change was education.

“I like this philosophy of helping Africans help themselves, and one of the best ways to really do that is through education,” he said. “You need to empower Africans to take up the destiny of their own country in their own hands.”

Collier echoed this point in his lecture, arguing Africans themselves must be the agents for change.

“Our role is to help them in their struggle, not do it for them. … We can make a difference, but to an extent,” he said. “If we over-glamorize our role, we will fail.”

Collier also said America and Europe each must change its policies towards Africa, which have helped destroy the country, and called for a plan to help rebuild Africa similar to the Marshall Plan used to rebuild Europe after World War II.

“Improper behaviors that have to be recognized as such and stop,” he said.

Collier called on Notre Dame students to help create the political pressure necessary to force politicians into action.

“Until we get a more sophisticated citizenry, politicians will never be pressured,” he said.

Last year, five Notre Dame students visited Uganda to do research on aspects of everyday life in the county, such as the poor quality of the drinking water, and described their experiences in a video shown at the ceremony.

The enthusiasm of students at Notre Dame was the chief reason the Fords wanted to endow a program at the University, Matt Ford said.

“I can’t imagine too many other places where a program like this would be as welcomed as at Notre Dame, simply because of the student body,” he said.

Lyden said this type of hands-on research would be a critical component of the Ford Program, and students will be able to apply for internships in Africa with the Ford Program through the Kellogg Institute.

“We want to conduct and promote serious research that will have a positive impact on people suffering in the developing world. It is research that attacks real problems,” Lyden said.