Hewlett’s Free Lunch Program Ends

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The Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (assets: $9 billion) announced in May 2000 that it was planning to establish a major child and youth initiative. Appointed to plan and implement the program was Michael Wald, a former Stanford law professor with a reputation as a deep (and deeply orthodox) liberal thinker on disadvantaged youth issues. He was tasked with figuring out what to do with a projected $20 million in grant making a year. Wald settled on aiding the nation’s 5 million out-of-school and out-of-work 16- to 24-year-olds.

The youth employment and training sector of the youth field was ecstatic to have a new major national foundation weigh in on a critical social need that has been increasingly neglected by Congress and philanthropy. Says David Brown, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition, “I was optimistic about where he was headed.”

Soon Wald was busy thinking, planning and, says one former federal official not on Wald’s list, “having lunch with all the wrong people.” That was followed by round after round of thinking, planning and, of course, lunching. After two years, even the foundation’s president, Paul Brest, was noticing (as had the un-lunched Nose Knows) that, as one lunchee observes, “This guy is too slow.”

No wonder. Wald was considered one of the nation’s most knowledgeable philosopher/practitioners-turned-grant makers on the problems, programs and research on disadvantaged older youth. So what? The faculty of hundreds (all drawing paychecks provided by some other grant maker) who had provided Wald’s languorous further education did so because they wanted to receive Hewlett’s grant support to advance their own work with disadvantaged older youth.

Meanwhile, while Wald practiced those current philanthropic favorites – “due diligence” and “knowledge development” – Hewlett’s assets tanked with the dot-com stock market. Last summer, the finally impatient Brest had had enough of Wald’s planning-is-the-product approach to grant making. Faced with a need to cut back foundation spending, Wald’s still-in-gestation initiative was an irresistible and relatively painless target for Brest, so he aborted Wald’s program (thereby eliminating its grant-making budget). In the nick of time, Wald did manage to make a July grant of $60,000 to the Family Stress Center.

In a September letter to the now-stressed lunch bunch, Wald, citing only the foundation’s declining assets for the programs’ demise, thanks them for their “substantial time and effort to help me in our planning process.” Wald will stay on at Hewlett “until next summer” to “write up what we have learned.” That gives Wald another year in the same place – out to lunch. Contact: (650) 234-4500, www.hewlett.org