Integrating The Hewlett Foundation's Global Development and Population Programs*

President's Statement - 2009 Annual Report

In March 2010, after more than a year's intensive work by the Hewlett Foundation's staff and Board of Directors, the Foundation decided to combine its Global Development and Population programs into a single program. Building on the traditions and commitments of its antecedents, the new program seeks to improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable people, especially women and girls, through more accountable governance, improved reproductive health and rights, access to quality education, and better economic opportunities. This essay describes the background of the Board's decision.

History of the Population Program

Population was prominent among the issues that animated Bill and Flora Hewlett from the earliest days of the Foundation, with grants to Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Association of San Francisco dating back to 1967. At that time, the Foundation was concerned about the disastrous effects of unbridled population growth, and supported family planning as a specific method to combat this problem.

In 1977, under the presidency of Roger W. Heyns, the Foundation formally established four programs, all of which remain to this day: Arts and Humanities (now Performing Arts), Education, Environment, and Population. Anne Firth Murray, the first program officer for Population, played a major role in defining its focus: the provision of family planning both domestically and globally.

When the Hewlett Foundation was established, population growth was a problem of global dimensions. Economic development, the increased availability of family planning (aided in part by Hewlett and other foundations), and other forces effectively helped reduce population growth over the next half century. (Figures 1 to 4 illustrate these dramatic changes in global demography.) In the twenty-first century, fertility rates remain high mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and other pockets of extreme poverty.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4


This same period also saw a transformation in global consciousness about issues of reproductive health and rights, which crystallized in 1994 in the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. The resulting Programme of Action links population, women's well-being, and development as essential means for combating poverty and stabilizing population growth.2 The Programme of Action further recognized the intrinsic value of reproductive rights and the need to protect them in all countries, regardless of their rates of population growth.

Under the successive leadership3 of Faith Mitchell (1987 to 1992), Nancy Moss (1993 to 1995), Joseph Speidel (1995 to 2002), and Sara Seims (2003 to the present), the Population Program strengthened its commitment to family planning and reproductive health because of their benefits to individuals, societies, and the entire global community. The Program's work focused increasingly on sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates remained, and still remain, high.

Under Ms. Seims' direction, the Program undertook a major review of its overall strategies. This led to the adoption of the mutually reinforcing goals of "promoting and protecting reproductive health and rights and helping governments stabilize their populations in ways that maximize human well-being and sustain the environment." The Program also supported studies of the relationship between fertility rates and access to quality education, and launched a research initiative to understand the complex relationship between family planning and reproductive health on the one hand, and poverty and economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa on the other.

Emergence of the Global Development Program

While Population has been among the Foundation's core programs since its origin, grantmaking in the broader arena of global development emerged only in the past decade.

In 2002, the Board of Directors approved a three-year exploratory initiative led by Smita Singh to identify international problems that the Foundation could meaningfully address. The initiative made grants in areas including foreign aid effectiveness and agricultural trade reform; journalism, media, and public education about global current affairs; research and policy analysis on development and security concerns; and in-country philanthropy. After initial explorations, the initiative concentrated mainly on challenges facing the developing world.

After three years of promising grantmaking, the Board authorized the development of a new Global Development Program, headed by Ms. Singh, with the mission of "improving the lives and livelihoods of people in developing countries, particularly those living on less than $2 a day." After intense research and consultation, the Program developed a strategic plan that was approved by the Board in 2007. It included a set of initiatives designed to overcome significant barriers to equitable growth:

  • Increasing the transparency and accountability of public spending in order to improve basic services.
  • Expanding agricultural markets for small farmers.
  • Improving educational outcomes for children in developing countries.

In addition, recognizing the importance of developing countries' having independent capacity for policy analysis, the Program supported indigenous policy research institutions and think tanks throughout the developing world.

Although a young program, Global Development quickly gained influence on issues such as reforming development assistance practices, making aid more transparent and accountable, and refocusing global attention on education in developing countries from mere access to quality and outcomes. The Program collaborated in creating the Revenue Watch Institute and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, and played a major role in exposing European Union agricultural subsidies and Mexican budget practices to public scrutiny.

Collaboration between the Programs

Virtually since its beginning, the Foundation has been aware of the factors that connect population and reproductive health issues with the broader global development agenda. Early on, Population's Anne Firth Murray had noted that fertility was affected by a country's stage of economic development and by women's access to education and employment: "We had to provide family planning services for women so they had [the] choice to limit their families, and we also had to develop economically and educationally so people would see the value of having fewer children and . . . understand that if they could have healthy children, they didn't need to have ten in order to have three or four survive."

The emergence of the Global Development Program soon led to collaborations with the Population Program that built on these connections. For example, they undertook a joint initiative on Quality Education in Developing Countries, believing that improved learning outcomes in developing countries would have multiple benefits for economic development, health, individual well-being, and fertility. Given the direct links between education and better quality of life for all, and particularly between girls' education and lower fertility rates, the Foundation saw investment in this initiative as a way to further its overarching goals.

Learning from Global Development's work on transparency and accountability, Population launched an initiative for "More Money, Well Spent" on family planning. This effort supports efforts to allocate family planning and reproductive health resources more efficiently and effectively. The two programs seek to ensure that poor people receive high-quality basic services, including clean water, education, and reproductive health.

Integrating the Programs

As we saw these convergences, Sara Seims, Smita Singh, and I began asking whether the Foundation's goals might be more effectively reached by moving beyond informal collaboration between the programs to formally combining them. We saw particular benefits from placing population issues within the broader global development frame. We also recognized that because both program directors were leaving the Foundation within the coming year and a half, this was an opportune time for the Board to address the idea of integration.

Because of its importance to the Foundation's mission, the Board devoted extraordinary attention to this matter, forming a special task force and discussing it at each of its meetings over the course of a year. In March 2009, the Board authorized the three of us to continue to explore the pros and cons of a unified program as well as its possible structure. In the fall and winter of 2009, joined by members of the Board, we met with distinguished experts in population and other development fields in Washington, DC and New York City.4 Members of the two programs' staffs also played an important role in charting the future of an integrated program.

These extensive discussions and consultations, which yielded the following broad conclusions:

  • At the most fundamental level, the Population and Global Development programs share the goal of improving the well-being of the very poor-particularly women-in developing countries.
  • Rapid rates of population growth are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, a region characterized by high unmet need for contraception together with large desired family size. To address both factors, the Foundation should continue to improve the quality and access of family planning and reproductive health services and advance development strategies to reduce desired family size. Indeed, most experts thought that the best way to ensure that women receive the family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world was to treat these services as essential components of poverty reduction and economic growth-that is, to pursue population strategies within a broader set of development objectives. In the words of a renowned population expert, "population stabilization is not an end in itself. It is an important lever to the greater, ultimate goal of global development: to reduce poverty, improve human well-being, and improve health."
  • Many of our consultants emphasized the importance of continuing the Foundation's support for reproductive rights, which have proven to be vulnerable in all countries, whatever their development level or population growth rate.
  • Women and girls are the most disadvantaged of the poor, and virtually every development strategy-certainly every one the Foundation currently pursues-disproportionately benefits women. However, the Foundation has never defined population or global development issues as "women's issues," but rather as ones for society as a whole, with benefits for economic growth, prosperity, and environmental sustainability. Almost to a person, the experts we consulted thought that it would be counterproductive to the Foundation's goals to make women's well-being the central mission of a unified program. They noted that after more than two decades of unsuccessful women's programs, multilateral and bilateral institutions are moving toward gender mainstreaming to ensure that gender issues are integral to development strategies. The experts also thought that creating a "women's program" would marginalize it among decisionmakers who hold the purse strings. 

On a theoretical level, the experts confirmed our belief that the Foundation's investments in the two programs are inextricably linked parts of a virtuous circle: better-educated mothers have fewer children, who are healthier and better educated; improvements in family planning and reproductive health and rights also lead to healthier mothers and children; and these women and children become workers who contribute to society and promote economic growth. At the same time, gains in income and education reduce desired family size and, with an adequate supply of contraception, women have fewer children and invest in them more heavily, contributing to higher per capita wealth.

As a practical matter, the experts believed that a unified program had the potential for considerably greater impact than separate programs. But they cautioned that we should be aware of potential pitfalls as well. The Hewlett Foundation has a long-standing concern for population issues, a more recent but highly promising agenda in global development, and a well earned reputation for staying the course with valuable strategies. Thus, it was important that integration not signal a diminished commitment to the core components of either program.
In addition, the experts noted at least one potential tension between the two programs' strategies. While the Global Development Program supports allocations based on evidence of actual needs on the ground rather than donor earmarks, the Population Program supports organizations that advocate for increased international funding of family planning and reproductive health. It may well be that special consideration must be given to aspects of development, such as family planning and reproductive health, that are ideologically controversial. In any event, the experts did not regard this as a problem with integration, but rather as an indication of the value of unifying the Foundation's various development strategies.

The New Global Development and Population Program

As of this writing, the search for a director of our new Global Development and Population Program is under way. Over time, the director will doubtless develop and propose to the President and the Board some new strategies for the integrated program. He or she will not start with a blank slate, however. As approved by the Board, the Global Development and Population Program will build on the core goals of the two existing programs:

  • Improving the well-being of the world's poorest people, especially women.
  • Creating the conditions for equitable and sustainable economic growth in the developing world.
  • Enabling women to control the number and timing of their pregnancies and protecting women and girls against gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections, and unsafe abortions.
  • Establishing the conditions for transparent and accountable governance, particularly in the financing and delivery of public services.
  • Investing in human capital by ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn in school.

All of this work will continue to be supported by data collection, research, evaluation, and training, including support for the Think Tank Initiative, impact evaluation, and the training of population scientists in African universities.

The Foundation's grantmaking will continue to support work at the global, regional, national, and, where appropriate, subnational levels. Reflecting the Foundation's significant expertise and commitments, the Program will maintain the current focus on sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Mexico. Although challenges in domestic reproductive health and rights policy differ from those in the developing world, our commitment to organizations working on these issues in the United States remains strong, and support for their efforts will remain a core element of the integrated program.

As conditions in the world change and new challenges and opportunities emerge, the Program's strategies will inevitably evolve and shift. However, the integrated program will continue to reflect the core operating principles of the Foundation's international grantmaking:

  • Building capacity within developing countries and providing the long-term institutional support to make this possible.
  • Focusing on lasting system change and facilitating policy reforms to make this possible.
  • Building the evidence base for sound policymaking.
  • Thinking rigorously about goals and strategies and holding ourselves accountable through appropriate evaluations.
  • Taking risks for long-term gains and learning from failures.
  • Increasing the value of the Foundation's investments through collaborations with governments, multilateral and bilateral donors, sister philanthropies, the private sector, and civil societies in the South and the North.
  • Seeking long-lasting impact for the greatest number of people.



* I am grateful for the assistance of Kylin Navarro in preparing this essay.
2 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, Programme of Action (Cairo, September 1994), chap. III, A (
3 Program directors at the Hewlett Foundation are subject to term limits.
4 We were significantly aided by Ivan Barkhorn of the Redstone Strategy Group, who had helped develop strategic plans for both programs.