“Changing Culture: How Do We Know If We’re Making a Difference?” at Hewlett Foundation

Our semi-annual HDWK/Philanthropy event with the Hewlett Foundation focused on the role of foundations in “culture change.” What does this term mean to philanthropists, and what are their various expectations? While some funders are attempting to change dominant narratives by promoting under-recognized voices and stories, others are investing in relationships between social change advocates and show runners, screenwriters and other contributors to popular culture. What are these philanthropists—and their grantees—learning? Together, where do they place culture change in the context of social and policy change, or are these definitions important?

We invited Amy Kramer, the Senior Director of Entertainment Media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to describe her work with media executives, writers, producers, social media experts, and others to help them incorporate teen and unplanned pregnancy prevention messages into the content of their work, notably for MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. Alternating with Christine Clark, a Program Officer in the Global Development and Population Program at the Hewlett Foundation, which funds Amy’s work, we got behind-the-scenes insights into what it takes to build relationships with the entertainment industry. What risks, if any, are involved in supporting partnerships with popular culture?  Are these tactics viable for addressing complex issues other than public health behaviors, such as immigration or inequality? And how would funders and practitioners know if they were making a difference? 

Johanna Blakely, PhD, Managing Director at the Norman Lear Center, then deepened the conversation by sharing some of the Center’s newest research; if you’re interested in how an active viewing public, through social media, may be keeping Hollywood writers and showrunners accountable and preventing stereotypes,
read their study!

Funding “culture change” doesn’t work for every media funder. It takes time, risk, and, honestly, faith that—even if socially relevant content does find its way into popular entertainment—it’ll help shift perspectives. But if we really want to reach beyond the choir, we need to go where audiences naturally go. And while AV Lab has championed earnest documentaries that may speak to small but passionate audiences for decades, we’re also rooting for widely accessible shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.

Lead photo from MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.