The Democracy Fund is delighted to welcome Betsy Wright Hawkings as the new Program Director for our Governance Initiative, which seeks to foster dialogue across the ideological spectrum and support reforms that reduce incentives for hyper-partisanship and gridlock.
The Democracy Fund – a nonprofit foundation created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar – has committed more than $25 million in grants to organizations working to strengthen our nation’s political system over the past three years. Current grantees of the Democracy Fund’s Governance Program include the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Aspen Institute’s Congressional Program, and the Faith & Politics Institute.
With more than 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill, where she served as Chief of Staff to several members of the House of Representatives, Betsy will lead the Democracy Fund’s grant making to organizations working to build bridges across the ideological divide and seek out ways for our government to solve problems in the face of increased polarization. Recently awarded the Cresswell Congressional Staff Leadership Award from the Stennis Center for Public Service, Betsy clearly gained the respect of colleagues on both sides of aisle during her career.
I speak for the entire Democracy Fund team when I say I can’t think of a better way to start 2015 than to have Betsy join our team. We are excited to have someone of Betsy’s experience and energy lead the Governance Initiative. She is going to bring a deep and pragmatic understanding of the way Congress and the parties work – and of the challenges they face – to our efforts to support authentic, productive dialogue in our democracy.
Prior to joining the Democracy Fund, Betsy worked for two decades for her hometown congressman, Christopher Shays of Connecticut. Betsy took a leading role in helping Rep. Shays build bipartisan coalitions to balance the federal budget in 1995-96 and establish the 9-11 Commission and implement its recommendations. She also supported the enactment of the Congressional Accountability Act, a provision of the 104th Congress’ “Contract with America,” which applied labor, civil rights, and workplace safety laws to Congress.
From 1996-98, Betsy was also Deputy Director of the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-partisan organization that works directly with Members and staff to enhance their operations and interactions with constituents. Betsy oversaw day-to-day operations of the Foundation and developed numerous guides and resources that provide Members with critical information, from how to establish and run Washington and district offices to best practices for setting strategic priorities over the course of a term.
Following Shays’ departure from Congress in 2008, Betsy left the Hill briefly to work for Amnesty International, where she was Managing Director of Government Relations and then Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy, Policy, and Research. She returned to Congress to lead the staffs of Congressmen Mike Turner and later Bobby Schilling of Illinois before signing on as Congressman Andy Barr’s chief of staff in 2012.
Betsy is a graduate of Williams College, where she was named a Mead Scholar of American Studies, and is a founder of the Form of 1981 Memorial Fund at her alma mater, Groton School, to support student financial aid. She and her husband, David, live in Washington with their two sons.