The foundation seeks to bring about meaningful, socially beneficial change in the fields in which we work.

Meaningful social change is not achieved by quick fixes. It requires dedication and patience: willingness to take the time necessary to understand a problem, and readiness to stay the course long enough to mitigate or resolve it. We make long-term commitments to the fields in which we operate, reflected in our long-standing programs in education, the environment, global development and population, the performing arts, philanthropy, and the greater Bay Area community. Our commitment to these fields grows directly from the Hewletts’ philanthropic interests and reflects values and concerns of importance to them. These long-term concerns comprehend matters of enduring importance in society, yet are broad enough to leave room for our goals and strategies to adapt and change with the times.

We do not confine ourselves to these fields exclusively, and have preserved flexibility to adopt special initiatives that respond in a timely fashion to unforeseen circumstances, the evolving needs of society, or emerging opportunities. In all our work, we are prepared to take the long view.

In choosing goals, we are idealists and aim high. As many others have observed, philanthropy is (or ought to be) society’s “risk capital.” As such, we look to invest our resources in areas and on problems that are vital, but also unlikely to be addressed without us by other institutions, such as government or for-profit ventures. This is particularly true when it comes to taking steps these other institutions may avoid as too risky; preparedness to take chances is of paramount importance in our work. This risk tolerance necessarily includes willingness to experiment with ideas and approaches that may fail—experiments we undertake in the spirit of learning more about what does and does not work, which is itself a contribution to public understanding.

Belief that healthy institutions in government, academia, and the non-profit sector are critical to a well-functioning democracy is an animating principle. This is reflected in our work to build new fields as well as our commitment to providing long-term general operating support to anchor institutions in the fields in which we work.

Sometimes explicit and always implicit in our work is a commitment to helping people who are disadvantaged. This is neither a singular concept nor an independent strategic objective. It is, rather, an ever present consideration we are mindful of in recognition that our ultimate aim is to improve lives and help those who need help. As one consideration among many, it influences our choice of problems and solutions in the fields in which we work. “Disadvantage” means different things in different contexts and carries more or less weight in light of other considerations, but it informs our thinking and forms part of it—exerting a gravitational pull on discussions, analyses, and conclusions.

Illustrative Practices:

  • Presumption of continuity for programs, including ongoing budget
  • Long-term relationships with organizations aligned with our goals and approaches
  • Willingness to adjust course
  • Requirement to evaluate risk
  • Time-limited initiatives outside programs
RETURN TO GUIDING PRINCIPLES