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The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: Communicating Impact 

April 7, 2015 — By Sheena Johnson

The best ways to measure the impact of the arts has been the subject of a field-wide debate. How do you begin to quantify individual and communal transformation, healing, cultural understanding, and bonding?  In the arts sector, qualitative information such as stories, photos, and video can do just as much—or maybe more—than balance sheets and audience numbers to capture the intrinsic value for those who participate in and experience the arts. Communicating this impact in the age of strategic communications requires that organizations not only have high quality digital content but also have the skill to translate that content into compelling organizational stories.

Like our grantees, the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program also wanted to be able to better communicate our impact on Bay Area communities.  In late 2013, we launched a digital assets project to create three mini-documentaries and photo sets that highlight the impact of our core strategies. As part of this project we recognized that we wanted to share, visually, the breadth and diversity of our portfolio. Historically, our high quality photos and video came from larger budget institutions in our grantee portfolio; often, small to mid-size community based organizations lacked the capacity to invest in and develop the high-quality video and photos that are essential for effective storytelling and strategic communications. Therefore we decided our mini-documentaries should focus on community-based grantees serving diverse Bay Area communities. 

The first grantee we worked with for this project was the incredibly brave School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) in East San Jose, California. MHP was a great pilot partner on this project, and we learned a lot about the staffing and infrastructure support needed to successfully produce this type of media, as well as how time consuming it can be. During a roughly eight month process, our production company partners Rapt Productions created the beautiful and moving five minute mini-documentary you see above, as well as a fantastic set of photos that truly captures the energy and spirit of MHP and the critical role it plays in its community in East San Jose. The video and photos clearly communicates the vital importance of cultural heritage and multicultural arts education in giving voice to young people and building stronger communities in a way that words and figures just can’t hope to match.

It was clear to us that an effective partnership, and a successful project, would require a great deal of time and effort on the part of MHP—and that the project couldn’t end with the delivery of the video and photos. An important part of this process has been to support MHP in using the materials effectively to further their strategic goals. In addition to helping shape the content of video and photos, MHP staff also attended a Foundation-hosted communications training by Spitfire Strategies to develop a plan to link the visual media to their broader organizational goals: increasing class enrollment, facility rentals, and foundation support .

As you’ll see in the video above and the photos below, the work that MHP is doing in East San Jose is having a remarkable impact in the lives of individual students and the neighborhood. We are tremendously grateful to MHP for their partnership on this project, and for the opportunity to help show how they are transforming lives and empowering a whole community.

If you’re interested in reading more about the history of the School of Arts and Culture at MHP, I encourage you to read my colleague Heath Wickline’s recent story about them: Building a Place of Safety, Inclusion, and Community.

Work in Progress

The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: Eight Years of Quality Education in Developing Countries 

December 16, 2014 — By Dana Schmidt

The Quality Education in Developing Countries initiative (“QEDC”) has been an eight-year effort to help ensure that all children have the chance to go to school and to learn. As the initiative comes to a close at the end of the year, this post tells the story of QEDC in a series of 10 photos. For more about the initiative, what the end of it means, and what we’re planning for the next phase of our work in international education, please see our website.

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The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: King Salmon Conquer the Dam 

December 22, 2014 — By Michael Scott

Two of our grantees, Trout Unlimited and American Rivers, worked for years to get two dams on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park removed. The first came down in 2011, the second just a couple of months ago. The Elwha was once famed for its huge runs of king salmon, some reaching 100 pounds.

Within weeks of the first dam being removed, kings were spotted upstream in the river. Now, just a couple of months after the second dam has been removed, opening up dozens of miles of spawning streams in Olympic National Park, king salmon are being seen re-occupying streams they haven’t had access to for over a century.

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The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: Into the Outdoors 

November 25, 2014 — By Camilla Simon

Camilla Simon was recently named Program Director for HECHO, a grantee of our Environment Program, where she served as Program Associate from 2008 until last month.

Standing just outside the town of Moab, Utah, I see a complex landscape—a place that is strange, intriguing, and beautiful.  My eyes scan the flat, reddish-orange and sage-colored terrain that seems to stretch on and on for miles, practically into another day. Then, the flatness stops. Up juts a gigantic red rock towering over the Earth, exposing hundreds of millions of years of geologic time on its walls. The La Salle Mountain Range hovers off in the distance on the horizon. Nearby, the Colorado River is busy carving through this rock and it reminds me of the immense scale of the natural processes happening here. These scenes are truly impressive, and the landscape is a ripe playground to explore. As a place to recalibrate from the busy lives that we lead today, it’s no wonder that it’s considered one of the best places in the world for outdoor recreation.

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The Hewlett Foundation Blog

School's Out for Summer: What Have Kids Learned? 

August 13, 2014 — By Dana Schmidt

This week we released a film called Every Child Counts (And Reads): Measuring Learning for All (there's also an abbreviated version and the French version, if you're interested), which explores an innovative approach for measuring what children have learned and making it matter to parents and policymakers alike.

Three years ago I was in rural India directly participating in one of these surveys in the almost unbearable heat of summer. I was with two Indian colleagues who were hard at work mapping a village in Uttar Pradesh under the direction of the village headman. We were squatting in the shade but there was no escaping the hot, humid air.. A crowd formed around us as my colleagues sketched the village’s different neighborhoods on the pavement with chalk. The crowd moved quickly from bystanders to participants, offering advice with hand gestures and rapid Hindi—“No, no, the school is across the road from the well, not next to it!” Or at least that’s what I imagined them saying. My Hindi was—still is— next to nonexistent, but there was no mistaking the interest they took in us and our map.

Eventually the villagers asked us why we were there. Why were we drawing a map of the village? What had we come here to do? My colleague explained that we were doing a survey. We wanted to see if the children of this village could read.

That day was actually a dress rehearsal for a much larger survey. My colleagues were preparing for the Annual Status of Education Report, or ASER (pronounced ah-sir) for short. ASER means “impact” in Hindi and is aptly named since the goal of the survey is to see what impact education is having.

This year, it’s likely that more children will finish elementary school than ever before. This is not just because there are more fifth graders in the world than ever before. It is also because today most children go to school, no matter where in the world they were born. In an extraordinarily short amount of time the world has managed to make the opportunity to go to school nearly universal.

But what about the opportunity to learn?

For a long time people were so focused on counting whether or not children were attending schools that they did little accounting for how much learning was going on. ASER is an effort to address that gap. So are similar surveys like Uwezo in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Bèekunko in Mali, Jàngandoo in Senegal, and ASER Pakistan. Collectively these efforts assess over one million children, every year, in their homes. As my colleague Rukmini Banerji, Director of ASER, points out, the surveys help “demystify learning for mothers, fathers and family members—especially those who are not literate or do not have much schooling—and make it possible to see what learning looks like.” The findings show that a mere half of fifth graders in India and Pakistan can read, and a mere 20% of fourth graders in Mali can subtract. This has put pressure on governments to place due attention not only on whether or not children finish school, but whether or not they leave with the skills they need to thrive.

To complement the video released this week, the photo essay below explores these assessments in progress, as captured during that sweaty summer day in Utter Pradesh and other visits to the field.

Work in Progress

The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: What's the Quadratic Equation? 

May 8, 2014 — By Dana Schmidt

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t used the quadratic formula since high school. You may remember bits of it (there’s a “-b”, and a “4ac” involved) but struggle to put them all together. Your first instinct, like mine, is probably to Google it. (In fact, maybe you already have Googled it!)

Last year, I found myself struggling to remember the quadratic formula, but I didn’t have access to Google. I didn’t even have any textbooks to consult. All I could refer to was my own fuzzy memory and a couple of colleagues with equally fuzzy memories. I was with Ruth Levine and Margot Fahnestock in Kitanga, a rural village in Tanzania about 60 kilometers outside of Dar es Salaam. We were sitting in the living room of the local primary school teacher, struggling to help her 14-year-old twins prepare for their examinations by the dim light of a kerosene lantern with 60 goats bleating loudly outside. While we strained our eyes (and our brains), about a kilometer down the road Eric Brown and Hewlett Foundation Board member Rakesh Rajani were in deep conversations with the village chairman, learning about the local party politics that prevented the community from investing the $20 it would take to fix the village's only well. Nearby, Foundation President Larry Kramer was enjoying his first taste of mandazi and watching a cheaply-produced Tanzanian movie that villagers paid a few shillings to view in the local video shack.

We were all in Kitanga for an “immersion” visit organized by our grantee Twaweza. Every year Twaweza staff spend one week in a village in East Africa in order to gain insight on issues like how people get and share information, how they access fundamental services like education, and how they make change in their lives. We were in Kitanga not for one week but for one day and one night, at the start of our weeklong visit to the region to give Larry a more tangible sense of the work of the Global Development and Population Program. Our program aims to help people around the world reach their potential as individuals, citizens, workers, and parents through grants that seek to expand women’s choices and amplify voices calling upon governments to deliver better results for their citizens.

While visiting one village for one day by no means gave us a deep and comprehensive understanding of the complex realities in which our work occurs (indeed, one must consciously fight against giving undue weight to anecdotal experience), it did provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the individuals whom our grantmaking is meant to affect. For example, I emerged with a renewed appreciation for the constraints students and teachers face that limit opportunities to learn: from inadequate light for nighttime studies to teachers struggling to facilitate learning for an entire class with only two books.

Over the course of the week that followed our immersion—joined also by Kevin Bohrer and our Nairobi-based consultant Peter da Costa—we had a chance to deepen our village experience with site visits and conversations with other grantees in the region working to improve education quality, expand access to reproductive healthcare, and improve governance. It was a good opportunity to see the problems we work on through a fresh set of eyes as Larry engaged with grantees and as many of us met grantees from other parts of the program portfolio for the first time. This was just the sort of deep dive that helps us gain insights on our work—and brush up on our high school algebra! The photos below help tell some of these stories.