Living into justice & equity — even when it gets difficult

It’s only been four years since the Hewlett Foundation, like many others, made a specific and deliberate commitment to address systemic racism and advance racial justice and equity. Since then, the political landscape has shifted drastically — and not always for the better. While many organizations are continuing to live into their commitment, a growing backlash is resulting in decreased philanthropic funding of racial justice organizations; coordinated public campaigns against diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and the quiet dissolution of DEI departments across the U.S. Those committed to equity had their jobs made even more difficult with the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action in higher education.

It’s in this setting that Hewlett’s Culture, Race, and Equity team has put its Racial Justice strategy into practice. We’ve done this with a deep understanding that, for everyone to thrive, we must confront persistent and pervasive inequities. As we enter 2024, we look back at the progress the foundation is making as we embrace our commitment to racial justice.

Deepening our culture and internal commitment

Last year, every Hewlett team — all 18 — participated in a process to assess and address issues of equity in their work. That includes grantmaking teams, like Education and Environment, as well as administrative teams like Human Resources and IT. Doing this work across the foundation, and involving 100% of our staff, reflects our belief that achieving a flourishing society will require all of us. We also believe we cannot be good partners to racial justice organizations unless we are simultaneously advancing equity and justice at home.

While each team has identified quite different goals based on their context, here are some that have excited and delighted us:

  • Guided by their team ethos, “Shift power, advance equity, and center people,” the Effective Philanthropy Group is updating the guidance they provide to all of Hewlett’s staff engaging with and supporting grantees.  For example, now, each time a strategy is refreshed or developed at Hewlett, the process will include an assessment of persistent and pervasive inequities that play out in the context of the issue and what can be done to address them.
  • Our Gender Equity and Governance team increased language equity and access for their grantees, particularly those based in East and West Africa, as well as Latin America by making it possible for grantees to submit grant proposals and reports in French, Spanish, or English.
  • Our Facilities team is working to convert some of the foundation’s restrooms to all-gender restrooms. They are also committed to considering DEIJ when selecting vendors and consultants.
  • In 2023, the Environment team made a number of learning grants, in the U.S. and internationally, to help them better understand how advancing equity and justice can support their core goal of addressing climate change. They hope to refine this thinking in 2024 to better inform their strategies.
  • Our Finance team is expanding Hewlett’s matching gift policy to not only match monetary donations Hewlett staff make to U.S. public charities 4:1 but also to provide comparable matching funds for any volunteer hours Hewlett staff contribute to U.S. nonprofits. This makes the matching funds more accessible for those for whom it is more feasible to contribute time than money.

Even as we make progress, we’re grappling with emergent challenges. One such challenge is how our decentralized, team-by-team approach makes it difficult for staff to get a clear sense of the pace and direction of change across Hewlett. In the coming year, we’ll take this challenge head-on by increasing communication — both within the foundation and externally. In this way, we hope to deepen accountability for our work, as well as opportunities for shared learning.

Strengthening our Racial Justice grantmaking

Our Racial Justice strategy is anchored in a commitment to support racial justice organizations that work on the issue areas where Hewlett already engages. Since 2020, Hewlett has moved approximately $40 million in grants to racial justice organizations, and the Culture, Race, and Equity Program has funded 17 organizations. The grants we have provided aim to be, at minimum, for a three-year term and flexible, so racial justice organizations can direct funds to where and what they think is most essential.

In the first two years of the strategy, we have focused grantmaking in three areas. The first is field-building grants, which responds to chronic underinvestment of organizations that resource and build the racial justice field’s infrastructure. For example, this past year, we partnered with Borealis Philanthropy, which operates nine funds to advance racial, social, and disability justice. The second focus is on multi-issue grants, which brings the foundation into relationship with racial justice organizations that work on two or more of Hewlett’s existing grantmaking programs and initiatives. Here we’ve made grants to organizations like PolicyLink, whose work to create an equitable economy, an inclusive and compassionate society, and a strong, accountable democracy is connected to many areas where Hewlett already invests. Our third category is collaborative grants, which help Hewlett program teams bring new justice-focused grantees into their portfolio. In 2023, we proudly partnered with the Environment Program and Effective Philanthropy Group on grants to the Greenlining Institute and the Center for Evaluation Innovation, respectively.

Even though we are early in the strategy, we are already surfacing insights from grantees and the newly formed Racial Justice Advisory Council, which are helping to refine our approach.

  • Flexibly funding racial justice organizations allows them to be adaptive. Our strategy was built with the recognition that funding to racial justice organizations often comes with many strings and in fits and starts. This cycle starves the organizations, limits their ability to be impactful, and prevents them from adapting their approaches as needed. Conversations with our grantees and advisory council have highlighted that long-term, flexible funding is the right approach, but they have also called on us to consider whether there is more we need to do in the wake of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling. We are, therefore, exploring how we might augment our long-term grantmaking with funding to address the shift in the racial justice landscape.
  • Convening can result in transformational change. We have learned that there is no better way to support communities than to be in community with those working to advance racial justice. We felt this repeatedly in 2023 as we met with grantees, partners, and our advisory council to deepen our relationships and have honest, direct conversations. We will seek to do more of it in the year ahead. This includes meeting with our Racial Justice Advisory Council several times throughout the year, attending and supporting grantee events across the nation, and hosting a grantee convening of our own.
  • Shifting who we work with, and how we collaborate with them, matters. Hewlett is newer to the racial justice space, so it’s particularly important that we lean in as learners and operate in deference to those doing the work. It also requires that we break out of our own siloes, including within our own foundation, and grow our networks. As we do so, we must approach the collaboration with a spirit of reciprocity and respect — because how we work is as important as what we fund. This year, we hope to strengthen this muscle by building new relationships with those who push us to think differently and creatively about racial justice — and to provide support to organizations that have not been part of our network in the past.

We are excited to double down on advancing justice and equity; to share progress and challenges along the way; and, most importantly, to listen to those whose deep expertise is needed more than ever. Together — beginning within our four walls and continuing to the U.S. and beyond — we will work toward ensuring all people, no matter who they are or where they come from, can fulfill their own aspirations.

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