As the Ford Foundation prepares to station its first employee in Detroit since 1953, its president said Thursday that collaboration is key.

“We can’t get accomplished what we need to get accomplished working alone,” Darren Walker told attendees at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. He listed several Michigan-based foundations, then added, “We will only be as successful as we are willing to be collaborative.”

Founded in Detroit but based in New York for 64 years, the $12.5 billion Ford Foundation announced the hiring of program officer Kevin Ryan on Wednesday. Ryan will be based in the Kellogg Foundation office downtown.

“To my mind, this is a logical extension of our commitment to Detroit,” Walker said as he was interviewed on stage by WDIV-TV (Channel 4) news anchor Devin Scillian.

Walker oversaw a pledge of $125 million toward the “grand bargain” that helped bolster pensions, preserve the collection of the DIA and speed the city out of its record-setting municipal bankruptcy.

He said future Detroit investments will involve “the cultural sphere. Housing. Community development. The issue of blight. The issue of jobs. Small businesses.”

Projects will be undertaken with local input, Walker said, noting the ineffectiveness of “top-down initiatives designed by experts sitting in an office in Manhattan.”

“It’s quite encouraging to see how much progress the city has made these last few years,” he said. “The narrative about Detroit has moved from a deficit narrative — a problem city — to an opportunity narrative.”

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