The Four Freedoms Fund (FFF) was established in 2003 by Geri Mannion (a director with the Carnegie Corporation of New York) and Taryn Higashi (deputy director of the Ford Foundation’s Human Rights Unit). The Fund’s name was suggested by Craig McGarvey, a consultant and former program officer of the James Irvine Foundation, who was inspired by the Norman Rockwell paintings based on former President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech.
Designed to serve as a conduit through which charitable foundations could bankroll the activities of immigrant-rights organizations with maximum efficiency and flexibility, FFF is an initiative of Public Interest Projects, which provides the Fund with professional staffing and technical assistance. The original collaborative of funders that financed the nascent FFF consisted of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute—which together invested $2.8 million in the Fund at its inception. Representatives of these five entities served as FFF’s first board of directors.
Geri Mannion has stated that she and Taryn Higashi were motivated to form FFF by what they perceived as a post-9/11 “anti-immigrant backlash” on the part of “native-born citizens.” That backlash, she contends, spawned an alarming increase in hate crimes against immigrants in the U.S., thereby “further complicat[ing] the process of [their] integration” into the larger society.
In 2009 Mannion declared that because of “increased anti-immigrant rhetoric” and “increases in profiling, especially among Arab, Middle Eastern, and other people of color” since 9/11, FFF was redoubling its efforts “to provide support for many of the legal and advocacy groups that can help ensure that [immigrants’] individual legal rights aren’t abused.”
Higashi, meanwhile, lamented that the “rhetoric of hate groups, nativists and vigilantes has gained a strong foothold in the immigrant debate.” She was optimimistic, however, that with the ascendancy of the newly elected Obama administration—which she viewed as “so international in focus and so welcoming and supportive of the diversity created by immigration”—there would be “an opportunity for the immigrant integration and rights field to join in helping move policies in a wide number of issue areas that will benefit the larger public good.”
Between 2003 and the spring of 2014, FFF donated more than $71 million to 243 grantees in 37 states. The Fund dispenses its money by pooling donations from individual foundations and, in turn, making smaller grants to state and local immigrant-advocacy groups. Among the noteworthy recipients of FFF grants are such organizations as Families for Freedom, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
Several times each year, FFF sponsors gatherings that allow its grantees to share information and build relationships with one another. The Fund also provides direct, one-on-one support for those grantees.
Moreover, the FFF staff is constantly researching and assessing changes in the immigrant-rights field, within specific states and at the federal level. It then analyzes and shares this information on an ongoing basis with its donor steering committee.
Current member foundations of FFF include three of the originals—Carnegie, Ford, and the Open Society Institute—as well as the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Horace Hagedorn Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the JPB Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Unbound Philanthropy, and the Western Union Foundation.
Other foundations that have spent various lengths of time as members of FFF since 2003 include the Akonadi Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the California Endowment, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Hagedorn Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation.
FFF is also closely allied with the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (where FFF co-founder Geri Mannion once served on the board of directors) and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (where both Mannion and Taryn Higashi have served as board co-chairs).
In 2008, Deepak Bhargava’s Center for Community Change honored Geri Mannion and Taryn Higashi with its “Champion Award” for “their extraordinary work to create, nurture and network a whole field of immigrant rights and advocacy organizations.” In 2009, Mannion and Higashi were given the Robert W. Scrivner Award by the Council on Foundations, in recognition of FFF’s work to tie local immigrant groups to the larger national movement.
In 2007, FFF provided early funding for Welcoming America, an organization that went on, during the Obama administration, to lead an aggressive public-relations campaign on behalf of nine agencies whose objective was to facilitate the importation of refugees to the United States. Those agencies received huge payments from the White House’s $1 billion U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, and they included Catholic Charities, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the World Relief Corporation, the Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and the Ethiopian Community Development Council. In 2015, Welcoming America sought in particular to crush “pockets of resistance” to a massive influx of Muslim refugees from Syria, a nation ravaged by civil war and replete with terrorists.