Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, loves the athletic competition of the Olympics as much as anyone. But as someone keenly aware of economic disparity, he also sees a somewhat less appealing side of the Olympics.
With some $12.6 billion in assets—making it the nation’s second largest foundation after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—the Ford Foundation under Walker has been shifting its focus to addressing and alleviating income inequality around the world. And as the world’s attention has turned to the Olympics in Brazil, Walker spoke to me about the Games.
“As we have seen in our office in Rio, it’s a challenge. On the one hand, what’s happening there, we celebrate because there’s been significant new development,” Walker said. “There’ve been investments in the billions of dollars. The challenge is that it has not shared the benefits of the Olympics broadly with Brazilian society.”
The Olympics will reportedly cost Brazil in excess of $4.6 billion, this in a country with millions living in poverty and with myriad social issues. Walker notes that this fact is not lost on the populace. “People who have been displaced, people who have not been permitted to participate in the bounty of these resources that are now flowing through the Brazilian economy, are in many ways disaffected. And we’re seeing that disaffection on the streets, we’re seeing it in their politics, and we’re seeing it among particular people.”
Walker says this is particularly true of “Afro-Brazilians and indigenous Brazilians who make up over 50% of the population there, and yet are among the poorest and the most left behind in terms of social outcomes, economic power. And so there’s some real challenges in Brazil.”
But Walker, self-described as “bullish and optimistic on our future,” says Brazil has “a bright future.”
“This is a country that, in many ways has overcome in the past challenges like politics and corruption. It’s a very resilient country with a resilient population of people who, I think are gonna be able to weather this storm.”
Spoken like someone who can appreciate both the more difficult and the more uplifting side of things.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief at Yahoo Finance.