Supporting the Study and
Practice of Conflict Resolution

Despite their regular appearance in the news, grantmaking foundations remain something of a mystery to most people, surveys show. Recently the Hewlett Foundation newsletter took a look at some of the many forms foundation work can take. Here’s one. To see the others, click here.

Making the most of philanthropic dollars is an everyday job in foundation grantmaking. With the world’s problems so large and foundation resources so small by comparison, the search for maximum impact is constant. Sometimes this means investing broadly in tools to solve a social problem, rather than working on the problem itself. A good example is the Hewlett Foundation’s twenty-year, $160 million commitment to conflict resolution.

In 1984, when the Foundation embarked on this grantmaking, conflict resolution was still a relatively young field. During the next two decades, through almost 900 grants to more than 320 organizations, support from Hewlett and several other large foundations helped build eighteen university-based centers to nurture the theoretical underpinnings of the field, key practitioner organizations, and an infrastructure of professional associations to connect them.

Simply put, conflict resolution is the practice of using negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy to enable two or more sides in a dispute to come to agreement. It typically involves fostering communications among disputants, solving problems, and understanding the underlying needs of those involved to reach a solution satisfactory to all parties and eventual reconciliation.

Starting in 1992, the Foundation’s grantmaking in conflict resolution began to focus on consensus-based approaches to public policy, as well as on expanding the work to international settings in order to prevent new conflicts and resolve long-standing ones.

In 2004, the Foundation made its final grants in the field, having significantly advanced the techniques for solving social problems in a variety of contexts. Click here to read The Hewlett Foundation’s Conflict Resolution Program: Twenty Years of Field-Building, a report that chronicles the Foundation’s experiences and lessons learned.

The Foundation’s website also has three downloadable guides that it released for those interested in various applications of conflict resolution techniques. These guides focus on environmental issues, community development, and collaborative governance.