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Glasspockets Find: The Hewlett Foundation’s New Transparency Policy, Sharing "Work in Progress"
November 20, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Herman-150Yesterday the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced their new blog, Work in Progress, with an ambitious inaugural post by the foundation’s president, Larry Kramer. A new foundation blog may launch every week—and we certainly enjoy reading them—but it doesn’t always change our outlook on transparency within the field of philanthropy. What makes this blog unveiling noteworthy is that is reads like a manifesto, as Mr. Kramer writes:

“Transparency matters. Being open matters. The Hewlett Foundation and our peers in the philanthropic sector have the great privilege to operate within a system that allows—and even encourages—us to use our resources for the betterment of society as we see it. And with that privilege comes the responsibility to act with the highest ethical standards and commitment to the public good.”

Hewlett-blog-titleThe post culminates in the announcement of the Hewlett Foundation’s new Statement of Purpose on openness and transparency. Here, Mr. Kramer codifies transparency, taking it from a value to a policy—one that states the foundation is starting from new default mode: “To put this commitment to openness and transparency into action, we begin with a presumption that information created by or about the Foundation should be freely available.”

“In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

The comments section of the Hewlett Foundation’s first blog post is a lively read as well, responding to Mr. Kramer’s call for more discussion and disagreement. As he states, In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

Among those weighing in to question the status quo is political scientist Robert Reich, who commented, “Transparency is also important, it seems to me, because it confers additional legitimacy on the work of foundations, rightly positioning their work as worthy of public scrutiny and debate. It acknowledges that the activity of private foundations is not in fact private. It is public-facing, aimed at improvements on issues of public concern.” 

To see how the Hewlett Foundation “walks the talk” in the area of transparency, check out its “Who Has Glass Pockets?” profile on our new Glasspockets web site. You can also read our own statement of purpose in the Why Transparency section of the site. We’ll be following all the commentary to see if it leads to wider policy changes across the field and more real dialogue on transparency.

-- Rebecca Herman

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Being transparent and open as an organization is important if you want to gain people's trust. As long as you have good values and ethics and are doing things properly, being open will only benefit your organization. Doing so will let people see how you function and how you are wisely using your resources to help others.

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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