The Hewlett Foundation is tackling climate change head on





Larry Kramer

President

William & Flora Hewlett Foundation



LISTEN TO THE PODCAST WITH LARRY KRAMER - CLICK HERE


About Larry Kramer


Larry Kramer has been President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation since 2012. Under his leadership, the foundation has maintained its commitment to areas of enduring concern, while adapting its approaches and strategies to meet changing circumstances and seize new opportunities. He has, at the same time, been instrumental in launching new efforts to respond to pressing and timely problems, such as challenges related to political polarization and cybersecurity.


Since joining the Hewlett Foundation, he has written and spoken about issues related to effective philanthropy, including the importance of collaboration among funders and the need to provide grantees with long-term support. He frequently lectures and writes about broad societal issues, from global climate change to the challenge of maintaining democratic government in the 21st century.


Before joining the foundation, Larry served from 2004 to 2012 as Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. During his tenure, he spearheaded significant educational reforms, pioneering a new model of multidisciplinary legal studies while enlarging the clinical education program and incorporating a public service ethos. His teaching and scholarly interests include American legal history, constitutional law, federalism, separation of powers, the federal courts, conflict of laws, and civil procedure.


At the start of his career, Larry served as law clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Henry J. Friendly of the Second Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. Following his clerkships, Larry served as professor of law at the University of Chicago and University of Michigan law schools. He joined the faculty of New York University School of Law in 1994, where he served as Associate Dean for Research and Academics and Russell D. Niles Professor of Law until leaving for Stanford in 2004. Before joining Stanford, he also served as a special consultant for Mayer Brown, LLP.


Larry is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Law Institute. He serves as a director on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations, including the National Constitution Center, Independent Sector, and the ClimateWorks Foundation.


Larry received an A.B. in Psychology and Religious Studies from Brown University, graduating magna cum laude in 1980, and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, magna cum laude, in 1984. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including “The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review.”



About this Episode


President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Larry Kramer, shares his candid views on tackling climate change, adaptation vs mitigation, the merits of divesting in fossil fuels and much more.


Larry has been President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation since 2012. Before joining the foundation, Larry served from 2004 to 2012 as Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School.


The Hewlett Foundation has an $11 billion dollar endowment and this conversation focuses on their work tackling climate change. Larry delves into the difference between the different approaches of adaptation vs mitigation — and he explains his preferences.


We learn of the key players in this field today and different collaborations in place to drive change forward. Only around 2% of global philanthropic funds are focused on climate, so there is a pressing need for more action from funders around the globe.


Larry speaks candidly about the importance of unrestricted funding where appropriate and provides his views on whether divesting from fossil fuels is the right thing for the Hewlett Foundation right now. The focus, ultimately, being about achieving most impact.



The following is a full transcript of the podcast episode:


Alberto Lidji: Larry, a big heartfelt welcome on to The Do One Better! Podcast today.


Larry Kramer: Thank you. It's, it's a pleasure to be here. I'm really happy to have the chance.


Alberto Lidji: Excellent. Well, thanks for making the time. I know you're busy. You're out there in the West Coast. I'm here in London. So, it'll be a good chat.


Larry Kramer: All our mutual acquaintances say such nice things about you that I was excited to do this.


Alberto Lidji: Well, likewise, you have a big fan base across the spectrum of philanthropy. Why don't we kick off by finding out a little bit about the Hewlett Foundation or I guess formally the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Larry Kramer: So Bill Hewlett, and Dave Packard together started the Hewlett Packard company, which I think most people know today is HP. And each of them took their personal fortunes and started an independent foundation. So there's the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. And then there's the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, we actually are sort of cousins, and we work together on a lot of things. The Hewlett Foundation started like many do as a kind of kitchen table vehicle for Bill and Flora to do their personal philanthropy. But as their wealth grew, and it got larger, they professionalized in the mid 1970s, brought in a president, Roger Heyns, who had been the chancellor of Berkeley. And he took the areas in which they were giving and formulated our core programs around them. So sort of the foundation since the beginning of 1966, has been working in the areas of education, the environment, it started as a population program, it's really women's rights, women's reproductive health and family planning, and performing arts, and the Bay Area. And then it's grown. And as it's grown, we've taken on other things and strategies have modified, we still work in those core areas. But we've added work in philanthropy itself. We have a democracy program, a cybersecurity initiative, an initiative on rethinking the political economy or economics that we're right now calling...we haven't decided the name for sure. It might be society and the economy. It might be reimagined capitalism, something like that, and so on. So we work across a really broad array of areas.


Alberto Lidji: Amazing, And the climate is one of those things that I guess it probably touches on pretty much just about every thematic area you focus on anyway, right? I mean, you can't look at education or development or something else without having an eye on the climate in some way.


Larry Kramer: Well, at least in the sense that if we don't hit the climate mitigation window, then everything everybody else is doing in every other area is just going to be undone by the cascading social and economic effects of it. So in that sense, certainly, we're actually...the Hewlett Foundation has been the largest climate funder in the world, since at least 2007. I think we're gonna see that title this year, to any number of people, Jeff Bezos, or the CIFF foundation. There's a few other funders too, and CIFF has been in it for a while; they've been growing steadily. But, we've been making grants of somewhere between $120 and $130 million every year since at least 2007 on climate.


Alberto Lidji: Right. And for our listeners who don't know CIFF is the Children's Investment Fund Foundation.


Larry Kramer: Yeah, close partner.


Alberto Lidji: Close partner. Excellent. Now one thing that I knew about, and quite a few of my guests know about, but many people may be listening to this don’t. But I noticed referenced in the Hewlett Foundation's website as well, is that the amount of philanthropic funding that actually goes for climate, to tackle climate is it just under 2%


Larry Kramer: Globally.


Alberto Lidji: Globally.


Larry Kramer: Yes, I mean, for us, about 25% of our grant making goes to climate… Yes, but globally yes, it’s about, just about 2%. That’s right. Which when you think about the nature of the problem is puzzling.

Alberto Lidji: Yes, that’s an understatement. That's a very nice way of putting it.


Larry Kramer: As I say, for me, the way I think about climate, you touched on it before, which is not that it's the only important problem, all the other problems that people work on are important. All the other problems with the Hewlett Foundation work on I think are important and worth working on. The problem is, climate is different from other problems, because, most problems, it's like kick global poverty, that is a huge problem, we want to do what we can to fix it, we can fix a little bit in a place, and then keep working and so on, maybe we'll never fully solve it. But we can keep making progress and so on . With climate, once we hit around two degrees, there's a couple of tipping points that happen, right, the ice sheets melt in Greenland and in the Antarctic, and the permafrost melts, in Alaska and Siberia, and that releases a massive amount of methane into the atmosphere, and then the temperature rise shoots up from two to something like four or five degrees, and that kind of temperature increase. It's not that humanity becomes extinct. It's that the social and economic and political consequences are so great, that there's no way our existing systems can handle them. So think of it this way. Six million people migrated from Syria to Europe because of a drought, which was itself climate related. And it caused immense havoc in European politics, that's 6 million. Now imagine if it's 250 million people, or 300 million people migrating from all over the world, into the few places that are still potentially livable, and then you get wars and your food chains are disrupted. And in the meantime, while that's happening, you've got these constant storms, and droughts and famines, and wildfires, and all of these cascading effects are happening at once. And we have a chance to keep that from happening, but the window on it is rapidly closing.

Alberto Lidji: And there is a chance to do something about it, as you pointed out. We need to embrace a sense of urgency. Now with a balance sheet, the size of yours. Where does one start? So I was reading a really interesting report from Quilt.AI, who are sponsors of our show, and one of the things that they were saying is that, within social media and digital, one of the biggest angles that they've seen people backing is sort of policy change. It seems that there's a huge drive to change policy. And I noticed on your website, for instance, you have quite a strong emphasis on, you know, let’s drive forward infrastructure or let's get other philanthropic participants in there. How does one… where does one start?


Larry Kramer: So the first thing, I think you just put your finger on why only 2% of philanthropy is involved. Because I think for most people, they go like, “Where do I start? I have no idea, so I'm going to do something that I feel like I can get my arms around.” We have as a result, not just Hewlett but with a group of our partners, who are the long standing funders and climate created a mechanism we call the Climate Leadership Initiative or CLI, whose function is to help new funders find their way into the field. Because the fact of the matter is, it's a kind of all of the above that needs to be done. So think of it this way we need, we need to, on the one hand, a whole lot of different government policies to create a smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. You can't just shut off the fossil fuel industry today. People who need energy would devastate the economy in the world and hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. So you have to have a transition. And that needs to be managed through policy. At the same time, you need massive investment in the new infrastructure that you're going to have. And so you also need markets. And I should say we've got about 80% of the technologies that we need to do this, but we still have gaps in the technology, things are far along, but we need to finish those out. And so we need investment in R&D as well. So all of those things have to happen. No one funder can do that. So we need not just more money, but also more funders, we need human capital as much as financial capital to be moving this thing along. And it needs to be happening everywhere. Right? So we focus at Hewlett on the major emitters, the United States, China, India, Europe. Then we have secondary work, in Indonesia, Brazil, where the forests are and so on. But, Africa, Southeast Asia, they are not yet major emitters, but the growth that they're having is such that if we don't get ahead of it and have them grow with non-fossil based energy, we're gonna have a huge problem from that in the next generation. So that's why it needs so much work. But it's all doable. That's what's so striking. I mean, the truth is there have been enough people doing enough of the research and funding and thinking that, that if somebody wants to learn how and where they can make a difference, every little bit counts. You don't need to be a major funder to make a difference on climate. You just need to be thoughtful, and see yourself as part of an effort that many, many people are working on and find the place to plug or plugin.


Alberto Lidji: And one of the areas that...well, I mean, I guess the different preferences of where one could tackle climate. But you and I sort of exchanged a couple emails, and also we delved into a little bit of like climate repair… and that seemed to be like an area that you thought “yeah”…. but!…

Larry Kramer: Well, Okay, one of the other big debates in the climate world, the effects of climate are happening right now, people are being hurt right now. And so there is a big debate, which in the climate world is adaptation. So how do we adapt to the changes that are already happening to the climate versus mitigation, which is just how do we prevent further changes from happening, there are instances where those overlap, so you can do something that mitigates that also helps adaptation. You can think of things like improving cooling, right? Refrigeration and air conditioners, making them cheaper and more efficient. And that'll help people now it'll also, in hot countries that are getting hotter, it'll also reduce emissions going forward, agricultural reform has that effect, and so on. But, my view is, if you have to choose, we have to do mitigation now. And that's only because we have 10 to 20 years, and then we go over a cliff, so that the amount of adaptation that is going to be needed, if we missed that mitigation window is vastly larger than it will be if we don't. The people in the future are going to be hurt vastly more, and the people who you're helping now that help is going to be undone. So I know it's so tempting to want to help the people who are being hurt now, that's our natural instinct. But, to me, it's short sighted, because you're not going to be helping those people, you're helping them, and then you're going to hurt them later. And you're going to hurt everybody else later and hurt everybody a lot more. That's our view. Now, in the real world, there are lots of people working in adaptation, lots of people working on mitigation, we work on mitigation, we partner with people who are working on adaptation, where it has mitigation benefits, and we're all for that. But again, there are choices, I would take, two pounds of mitigation over a pound of mitigation and a pound of adaptation myself, because of the way I view the problem.


Alberto Lidji: I'm with you. And this 20 year horizon after which we have a very unpleasant cliff. I don't know how optimistic you're feeling about things, and I guess at least one could probably say, probably sensibly say that at least we now have four years of that 20 year time window where there might be a presidency, that's gonna be a little bit more favorably disposed to tackling climate change seriously.


Larry Kramer: Well, that's 20 years if we get started aggressively now. The idea is we need to get to net zero emissions by 2050. In order to get to net zero by 2050, a whole lot of changes have to happen. That, if we start on them now, we can make them happen. The climate thing is so interesting, because, in 2008, things were looking optimistic. And then Copenhagen failed, and Obama energy failed in the US. And then it looked really bad. Through the first Obama term, not much happened. And then he really put his oar in the water in his second term, and a huge amount of progress was made till 2016, 2016 was a high point, Paris, Kigali, which was a cooling agreement, there was an agreement in the shipping industry and in the air industry, and then Trump got elected. And we've had four years of stalled progress as a result. I think there's a chance to resume now things can turn around really fast. That's what we've seen. And we need them to. And, we'll see how it goes. I'm hopeful at the moment. And of course, we have to keep plugging away no matter what, because as I said, the consequences are unimaginable. They're unacceptable. They're unimaginable.


Alberto Lidji: And tell me in terms of the grants that you're awarding, the work that you're doing, the different programs that you're doing within climate, what do those look like? What are some of the flagship programs? What's the sort of stuff that's happening as a consequence of your engagement?


Larry Kramer: So Hewlett, we're kind of everywhere. Precisely because there was very little of climate philanthropy prior to 2007. In 2007, the Hewlett Foundation got together with the Packard Foundation and the McKnight Foundation and the three foundations committed a billion dollars over five years and launched an organization called Climate Works. And Climate Works, that was an effort to do a kind of centralized command and control efforts to get a global coordinated strategy, it was a really brilliant idea. And that launched the modern climate field. It ultimately...while it had a lot of successes, it ultimately didn't work, because you couldn't have a coordinated centralized effort that way, funders, many funders want to do things a little bit their own way. So we needed to find different ways to partner with them, you couldn't have one organization in San Francisco that everybody in the world was going to follow. There were all sorts of reasons it didn't work. But when we've shifted Climate Works, which is still a really, really important player on the global stage. We picked up a lot of the slack. So we are sort of core funders for many of the major organizations in all of the major emitting countries. And so we're in whether it's energy, appliances, buildings, deforestation, carbon dioxide removal, Hewitt's in all of it. Our hope and bringing in new funders is there's still a lot of areas that are not properly covered. So if there's too little funding and carbon dioxide removal, there's almost no funding and agriculture, there's almost, too little funding in Southeast Asia and Africa, the regions that we know we need to cover. And so in looking for new funders, we're hoping they'll fill those gaps. But if they don't, if they wanted to do the same kinds of things we're doing, I think we could shift our funding there because money is fungible. And so that's how we look at it right now, that we're spread very thinly across everything.


Alberto Lidji: And is that part of your wish, obviously, it is in terms of engaging new funders. But is that something that keeps your team busy, like literally actively going out there and saying, look, which are the foundations out there that have resources that aren't really doing stuff and let's get them on board?


Larry Kramer: Well, it's not my team. I mean, we created the Climate Leadership Initiative, precisely because we didn't think we were the best or right people to do that. So it's a big part of my job, part of the governing board for the Climate Leadership Initiative. But that's what that organization does. It does it in conversation with all of us, because we're obviously getting information. But for my team and the teams of most of the other core funders, they're busy enough just figuring out what to fund to be making progress, as opposed to spending time recruiting new funders, although they help, they help they'll talk to people.

Alberto Lidji: And the grants you make, are they generally multi-year grants? So what do those relationships look like if there's such a thing as an average?

Larry Kramer: So this is a broad Hewlett Foundation commitment. I don't know how much you know about Bill and Dave, the HP company was famous for something called the HP Way, which was a way of organizing, which was quite radical at the time, and actually is still quite radical today. But among the core premises were: you set expectations, you find good people, and then you give them the space to accomplish whatever it is that you've tried to accomplish. And they both brought that philosophy into their foundations. So we have across the foundation, a really deep commitment to multi-year general operating support. About 70% of our grants are unrestricted. We look for partners, and then we give them the funding and expect them to work with. We want to be in partnership with them, but we're not telling them what or how to do. We try to develop relationships where they can talk to us, and we can share and so on. So as I say, most of our grants are unrestricted.


Alberto Lidji: That's good, that's good. A lot of people think that the big foundations only do restricted but…


Larry Kramer: Well, that has been generally true if you look at the data, from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, or Candid. Hopefully, one of the things with COVID, right, was in the immediate wake of COVID, a whole bunch of funders came out and said, “Okay, we recognize it's going to be really hard. So we're going to take the restrictions off our grants.” And my hope is they will see, actually, it doesn't mean...not only doesn't it make a difference, but in many or most cases, you can actually accomplish your ends better when you do that. In which case, they'll stick with it. One of the reasons I will say I just have to add this is, we want these organizations to build some resiliency, for things like downturns, and they can't build resiliency when you give them tightly restricted project funding, and then underfund the project to boot. Whereas if you give them the funding and the flexibility to figure out how best to do it, they can do things like build reserves, develop resilient processes, and so on. So, I think generally, it's really important.


Alberto Lidji: So your case, would it be fair to say that maybe with this whole pandemic, you didn't have to radically adapt what you were doing anyway because you’re already giving your grantees quite a bit of latitude too…


Larry Kramer: Yes, that's right. We also had there was… I don't know how much you want to get into some of the other issues and debates. One of the other problems is, to the extent that well, as it turned out, of course, the markets held up. Hopefully they'll make it through another year, but at first it looked like the markets were gonna drop through the bottom. All funders were like, “Oh my god, we're gonna have to cut our funding.” And then, the critics were like, “You can't cut your funding now you have to increase your funding now.” And of course, yes, that means you won't have any money when the next downturn comes, but we'll worry about that, then. And maybe there'll be a whole lot more rich people who will fill in the gap at that time. And after 2009, when we did cut our budgets, we learned a lesson. And the lesson we learned was, let's not have that happen again. So it's our endowment grew back, we didn't put it all back into the programs, we split it 60/40, 60% back into the programs 40% into what we keep as unallocated funds that we use year to year when the market gets hold up, which is most years hopefully, for one time things for additional things and programs to respond to special opportunities and so on. But if there is a downturn, we can cut there, maintain our full support for our existing grantees. And in doing that, then adjust our spending so that we're also protecting future grantees. Because if I spend more now, I mean, that's great, except it means I will, by definition, have less to spend in the future. And unless you believe, and I think it's naive to believe that future needs are going to be less, then you're essentially trading off, present versus future. it's unavoidable. So I think we found a way, what we give up is neither our present support nor future support, but we give up our present flexibility to do new and different things to some extent. And to me, that seemed like the best trade off.


Alberto Lidji: Now, I’ll ask you a question… we don't need to ask this question but I'll ask you because it came up in the research, which is about your endowment, you have this $11 billion endowment. And it has been… you know, so my old university, they've divested from fossil fuels and stuff like that. And I noticed that on your side, it's not something that you're able to do right now. And I guess, partly because you're huge, but I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on that?


Larry Kramer: So first, let me say it's a complicated question. Although most people, like in everything today want to pretend that all debates are simple. And all answers are Kantian moral rights and wrongs. So it's not. It's a complicated question. And there's no unanimity within my own organization on what we should do. I mean, we have a policy, which was arrived at after a long debate, but not because everybody was like, “Oh, yeah, of course.” So let me just acknowledge that upfront, although I think we have the right policy. So here's how I think about it. First, the question about whether to have some of your endowment invested in fossil fuels is a moral question. But it is not a Kantian moral question, like, it is inherently right or wrong to do this. Because it's not a Kantian problem. It's a utilitarian problem. As I said earlier, the question is, we must get off of fossil fuels and onto renewable and clean energy. But we can't do that today. No one would shut off the fossil fuel industry today, even if they could, it would devastate the world. So the question is, what's the best way to make that transition? In which case to me, then the investing question is wholly a question of impact. So, what is the most effective set of things we can do? Divesting is a tactic. Much like, should I invest in carbon dioxide removal? Or should I invest in moving retail banks to change their investing policies? Or should I invest in, pick your choice, battery technology? Or should I divest? All of them are designed to have some kind of effect or impact on making that transition. And the question with divestment is, is it an effective tool to do that? Net, relatively speaking. So for instance, if I'm a foundation that's not doing any climate work, and I want to have some climate impact - divest! It might have some small effects. Why not? It'll hurt your returns, maybe. That's the second question. Does it hurt your returns or not? It depends on who you are. So, we don't do individual investments. I couldn't choose to divest from fossil fuels only because we can’t… we have $11 billion and a team, you know, we have three directors, I mean, we invest in funds, the fund managers have strategies. They're not changing their strategies for us. Most of them have lines out the door people who want to invest with them. So if I go to them and say, “Get rid of fossil fuels,” they'll say, “No, if you don't like it, take your money out. I don't need you. I’ve got the next 30 people who will give me their money to invest.” So the question is, do the managers that we're investing in relative to the managers we'd have to invest in if we wanted to shift and say, “Well, we'll only go with funds that don't have fossil fuels. Can they generate the same kinds of returns?” And the answer for us is clearly “No” it's just not even close. There are some what are called ESG funds, most of them actually still have fossil fuels. Put that aside. Some of them get high returns, usually because of overweighting in technology, which is because they're okay in Environment, but they're really bad on S and G. But most of them are too small to take investments on the scale that we want. So we couldn't invest in them even if we wanted to and so on. So when we look at our investment portfolio, and our capacity to invest, to divest, would hurt our returns significantly, meaning we would have less resources with which to do the grant making. And as such, it's going to reduce our impact. So I want to put this to the team. Think of divesting as a grant. It's a negative grant, but it's a grant, right? It'll have an impact, the impact is not going to be on the economics of the fossil fuel industry, because we’re… $11 billion is not even a drop in the bucket. Right? Every endowment in the world could divest from fossil fuels… every foundation and… you know, the market would absorb it in a week. We'd be back where we were. So it's not that it's in some notion of helping build a political movement. Although when organizations like Hewlett divest, it's like, “Oh, that's a shocking statement, the Hewlett Foundation thinks climate change is bad.” As if anybody didn't know that already. So the benefit in terms of helping to build a political movement strikes us as less than what we can do with the grant dollars supporting organizations building a political movement. Now, that's our assessment. Not everybody is going to agree with that, I get it just like not everybody agrees that we should focus on carbon dioxide removal, as opposed to battery technology, right? There are tactical disagreements within the climate world. And that's a good thing. Because then we have a little bit of everything. For some reason, as I say, people layer this moral thing on top of it, and misplaced moral value, in my view, because as I say, they treat it like it’s Kantian when it’s utilitarian. So our assessment has been that we can have greater impact the way we're working. And to make a gesture, or what for us would be a gesture, because it will have relatively little impact compared to what it costs us in our ability to actually advance the climate agenda. It doesn't make sense to do it. I don't think that's true for everybody. And I think some people may prefer the political statement that they get to make...think that's a powerful point. And I don't condemn them for that. I just don't happen to agree that it makes sense for us.


Alberto Lidji: Fascinating, and really insightful. Really, really fascinating. Now, the way you're delving into the morality of the question might lead one to think that you're a solicitor or lawyer. And one of the things that I find really fascinating about your background is that you used to be the Dean of Stanford Law School. Tell us a little bit about how you… which I think is incredible. It's great. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up where you are today and your trajectory, what's your narrative?


Larry Kramer: Sure. My life is a series of accidents. So I was born and raised in a kind of blue collar neighborhood in Chicago with a tiny little Jewish enclave. And of that generation where I was told from the moment I was born, that I was going to be a doctor. Jewish mother, and you know, I'm going to be a doctor. And I got to college expecting to be a doctor. And one semester in college, I realized I have no interest in being a doctor. And I took some classes, I took a class on religious ethics and moral issues, and a class in psychology. And both of them completely fascinated me. So I ended up majoring in psychology and religion. Graduated from college, no idea what I wanted to do, none. So I moved to New York, got a job, was hanging out with friends. I thought I wanted to be a writer, I was terrible, but I didn't know that. And my mom was so on my case, to like, if I wasn't going to go to medical school, then I needed to then go to law school, right? It was like a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Those were the three choices in life. So I finally agreed to go to law school, to get it off my back with planning to go for like six, eight weeks, drop out. Say I tried it, I hated it. I'm going back to New York. Now the thing that I had loved when… I went to college at Brown. And I think I made a mistake that I got in there, too. I had no business getting in. But I did for whatever reason. And it had been the first place where people took ideas seriously. And I loved that too. So I knew I wanted some kind of career in the academy, but I didn't have a field. Anyway, so I went to law school planning to drop out and there was a course taught by Edward Levy, who was the Attorney General for Gerald Ford. He'd been the president at the University of Chicago, the Dean of the law school, one of the really great figures of that mid 20th century generation, and the course blew my mind. It was so amazing. I had never understood how interesting law could be that the course started with the debate between Thrasymachus and Socrates and whether might makes right. It ended 1,800 pages later with Roe v. Wade. And you did essentially everything in between. It was like history and philosophy and law and it was so amazing. I became Levy's research assistant, worked for him for three years, stayed in law school and became a legal academic. And eventually a constitutional Lawyer in a constitutional historian, and that was just the way things went. And then, at a point, I realized, you know, I’m a pretty good scholar. I liked my work. I've enjoyed doing it. But I'm not one for the ages, I think. So, 50 years from now is anybody going to be reading my scholarship? Not likely. And I still wanted to do something that had more meaning in the world. I knew universities and so when the opportunity to become a dean came up, I grabbed it and, and went to Stanford. And because I believed that even if I wasn't going to be the scholar who changed the world, I think these institutions are really important. I think they matter a ton. And I learned how much they matter when I was dean. And I would talk to alumni who had gone on to have these amazing effects in the world. And they would talk about how important these three years had been for them, as they had been for me, so that felt really worthwhile. So I was dean. And the thing about being a dean is you have a half life of about 10 years. After 10 years, even if the faculty likes what you're doing, they get tired of you. It's like eating vanilla ice cream for 10 years. It’s like enough, I need a new flavor. So I wanted to do something else. By then I had not been doing scholarship for a while, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to the faculty. But if you want to do something other than go back to the faculty, you have to do it from the deanship, or you're never going back. So in my eighth year, I started to think about what I might want to do otherwise. And one of the possibilities was the Hewlett Foundation. It was a fantasy job. I knew about it because it was nearby because the then President Paul Brest had been one of my predecessors at the law school, and I knew him well. So I thought I knew the foundation. And it seemed like a really interesting opportunity. And so when Paul announced he was stepping down, during my eighth year as Dean, I put my hat in the ring, and got the job. It was a surprise, I think they had to have a special meeting like, “Can we give this job to two Dean's of the Stanford Law School in a row? Doesn't that look a little weird?” It was because I thought philanthropy would be kind of like being a law school dean. In that, as a dean, you are responsible for resources that you make available to improve and enhance the work of students, faculty, alums staff, and so on. And that's true for philanthropy, but only in the abstract. I got there only to discover it's a really complex trade. It's not something everybody can do… one of the big beefs I have with so many of the new philanthropists is they don't really want to learn. They come in thinking anybody can do this. I can give away money. Let me hear from some organizations, I'll create some, some metrics, and boom, I'm off and done. And… There's a lot of bad philanthropy going on out there.


Alberto Lidji: Yeah, you know we could have a conversation that goes on for a few hours I have a feeling here. Unfortunately, we just have 30 minutes.


Larry Kramer: Happy to talk again.


Alberto Lidji: Well, you're definitely coming back. Tell me a little bit about the key takeaway, if there is one, that you'd love for the audience to keep in mind after they finish listening to today's episode.


Larry Kramer: So I'll focus the key takeaway around climate. And to me, the key takeaway around climate is just recognition that it is foundational. Which is to say, the foundation on which all the other things we want to do rests presupposes the existence of a stable systems… stable environment and set of systems, that if we don't keep global warming below a certain level, are going to come apart. And when they come apart, everything else comes apart with it. And although it feels like it's far off, it's like, if you drop a ball now. Yes, it will hit the ground in the future. But we're dropping the ball now. And we need to catch it. And that, to me, would be the most important thing to recognize. That's why it has to have...doesn't have to supersede everything else you're doing. We also need a world to save. But it needs more attention. And it needs some attention from everybody thoughtfully and in partnership with all the other people who've been at this for a while, so that we can get this thing under control.


Alberto Lidji: Very, very well said. Larry, it has been an absolute pleasure hosting you on The Do One Better! Podcast today. And to our listeners - thank you as always for tuning in and subscribing and following. You've been listening to Larry Kramer, who is the President of the Hewlett Foundation, who's really had amazing insight today. I very much appreciate your time.


Larry Kramer: Thank you. It was great fun. Great to meet you.



Useful Links:


William and Flora Hewlett Foundation - Website


Larry Kramer - LinkedIn



Apple Podcasts Logo Listen.png
Google Podcasts Logo Listen.png
Spotify Available Logo.png

Corporate Sponsor

Quilt AI Logo.png
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

Copyright © 2019-2021 - Alberto Lidji -  The Do One Better! Podcast - Allvistar Ltd