A law professor for 25 years and then dean of Stanford Law School, Larry Kramer did not anticipate venturing into formal philanthropy. However, when the position of president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation opened, he saw the move as natural.
“In both positions, dean of a law school or president of a foundation, I am responsible for managing a pool of resources. My job is to direct those resources to other people to enhance their work,” Kramer said.
And so far, that’s what Kramer has done with the foundation. He has implemented new programs but also continued improving programs that the Hewlett Foundation already had in place.
“The foundation had been around for 50 years and was in great shape when I arrived,” he said. “It already had good programs and innovative strategies it was pursuing. My job was not to reinvent the organization but to keep the programs it had going and improve them as much as I could.”
Kramer also introduced some new programs, responding to changes in the world. One of those was the Madison Initiative, an effort to address polarization in American democracy.
“We started this initiative to help think about what we could do to mitigate hyper-partisanship and gridlock in the federal government, which has prevented it from doing much of use,” he said.
The foundation also began a program to build a field of policy analysis for cyber security, another growing, significant problem. While the Madison Initiative and cyber security analysis are two new programs, Kramer stressed the continuation of programs that the foundation has supported for years.
“The foundation has long been a funder of women’s reproductive health. Our work has involved supporting organizations that provide women access to family planning and safe abortion,” Kramer said. “We’ve also funded research and training for long acting reversible contraception (LARCs) because it’s very effective. As a result, teen pregnancy has dropped dramatically.
“Now, we’re changing our focus to reconnect the issue of women’s control over their reproductive health to economic well-being and women’s opportunities for productive, fulfilling lives. That is an example of a shift in strategy while still working toward the same long-term goal. We finished what we set out to do in one respect and had to think about what to do next.”
Kramer also stresses the importance of collaborating with other funders and partners, indicating the foundation identifies problems and then finds people who are doing the right work in order to support what the foundation is doing.
“Most of the work we do is either trying to change public policy or the circumstances surrounding it. We realize that in order to accomplish our goals, working with other funders is imperative,” Kramer said. “Collaboration in philanthropy has turned out to be surprisingly difficult, and that’s unfortunate. I do hope though that in the future, people are able to learn from what we’ve learned.”
Kramer says working in philanthropy has also affected his own life. He revealed that initially, his mother questioned his move from the deanship of Stanford Law School to being the president of the foundation.
“She had never heard of it, which is one of the things I like about the foundation; that it’s not about promoting itself,” he said. “But when she looked at what Hewlett does on the website she was really moved, because she understood that it was the chance for me to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Every morning, I can wake up and know that what I’m doing is worthwhile. And if I have any doubts about that, it’s in my power to change it. That is incredibly rare. Few people ever get to say both of those things.”
Want to hear from the next speaker in the 30th anniversary series? You can still RSVP to see Scott Harrison, CEO of charity: water, at the Lake Lecture on March 8 at 6 p.m. at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.