Larry Kramer and Charmaine Mercer


In 2020, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation committed $150M to support racial justice alongside the development of an entirely new office – the Office of Culture, Race and Equity – to incorporate equity efforts across the foundation’s culture, operations, and grantmaking. 

In this episode, President Larry Kramer and Chief Equity Officer Charmaine Mercer reflect on what it took to get there and how their unique decentralized approach – called “the Hewlett Way” – played a role. Along the way, Larry provides visibility into his role as a translator between the staff and board; Charmaine shares the foundation’s approach to advancing racial justice across 18 unique teams and 130 staff members; and together they emphasize the importance of trusting and supporting those closest to the work. 

References and Resources

  • DEIJ
    An acronym used internally at Hewlett for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice. 
  • Outcome Focused Philanthropy Guidebook
    Hewlett’s Outcome Focused Philanthropy Guidebook supports program strategy development in a way that provides latitude on “the how.” Charmaine mentions using this framework when developing the strategy for the foundation’s DEIJ work. 
  • Focusing on What Matters Framework
    The Focusing on What Matters Framework is a tool developed by the Hewlett Foundation that helps teams assess and identify opportunities to address systemic racism in their existing work. The framework was intentionally designed to help each team create and iterate their plans with the recognition that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to advancing racial justice.
  • Racial Justice Strategy
    The Hewlett Foundation’s racial justice strategy is rooted in the belief that for true culture change to happen - in society and within the foundation - the internal and external transformation must happen together and reinforce each other. 


Individual Reflection Questions 

  1. Charmaine and Larry talk about meeting people where they are in their racial equity journeys while also building alignment to collectively move the work forward. 
    1. What is one way you can build trust and greater alignment around racial equity with colleagues who are in different places in their racial equity journey? What might get in the way? 
  2. Larry describes the Hewlett Foundation’s approach as “a way of empowering people and asking them to take responsibility.” Reflecting on your personal identity and professional role, how do you think about your responsibility when it comes to racial equity?


Group Exercise

In this episode, Larry provides insight into how the Hewlett board functions in a supporting role, rather than gatekeepers that dictate the organization’s direction: “...our board does not work like most other boards. They do not actively tell us what we should be doing. [Rather] they expect the staff to take the initiative to bring to them what it is that we want to do. And then they view their role as – to ensure that we've thought it through and to support those decisions.”

For boards and board members who are curious about how to work towards being more supportive of staff and leadership, trust-based philanthropy project’s 7 Responsibilities for a Trust-based Board offers seven roles and responsibilities that help build trust-based boards. The guide also offers five questions to reflect upon with your board.


Episode Highlight



This episode of Can we talk about…? was produced by Aya Tsuruta (Executive Producer), Emily Daman (Producer), Edit Ruano (Hewlett Foundation) and Jesse McCune of Podfly (Audio Engineer).

Special thanks to Asha Hossain (Graphic Design), Nancy Sanabria (Episode Host), Komiku (Music) and to our Philanthropy Northwest and Giving Practice teams for their thought partnership and support. Thank you to the Ford Foundation for making this project possible.

Larry Kramer Headshot
Larry Kramer
President, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Larry 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 – including on racial justice. 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.


Larry is dean emeritus of Stanford Law School, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He serves as board chair of iCivics and as a director on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including the Silicon Valley Community Foundation 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.”

Charmaine Mercer Headshot
Charmaine Mercer
Chief Equity Officer, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Charmaine is the Chief of Equity and Culture at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She serves as an internal resource on racial equity in the foundation’s grantmaking and helps champion diversity, equity, inclusion and justice efforts within the foundation. She also oversees external grantmaking related to advancing racial equity, including a new 10-year, $150 million racial justice strategy.


Previously, Charmaine was a program officer in the Hewlett Foundation’s Education Program, where she helped refresh and implement a K-12 teaching and learning grantmaking strategy that centers equity. Prior to joining the foundation, Charmaine held senior-level positions with the Learning Policy Institute and the Alliance for  Excellent Education. She is currently on the board of the Grantmakers for Education, serves as an advisory board member of the Black Female Project, and is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.


Charmaine received her Ph.D. in politics and education policy from Claremont Graduate University, as well as her master’s degree in political science. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State University. 

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