The conversation about “systems change” has exploded over the last couple of years. At its core it involves tackling the root causes of a social problem (say, homelessness,) by changing policies, power dynamics, the flow of money, talent, and other resources — and sometimes even transforming customs and mind-sets. How can philanthropy recalibrate from largely treating symptoms — for example, building more homeless shelters — to a systems change approach focused on ending homelessness in the first place? This is the question Ashoka asked more than 130 social entrepreneurs and grant makers in a report we released with peers in our field like Catalyst 2030, Co-Impact, Echoing Green, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Skoll Foundation. Their observations led to the first global effort to bring together the people who want to fund systems change with the people doing the work in communities around the world.
There is an imperative for a new culture and practice of philanthropy.Social entrepreneurs and grant makers alike emphasized this point more than anything else: Effectively funding systems change begins with a new mind-set, new values, and new behaviors that in turn shape better funding practices.
Three major themes stood out for us in particular:
- Build trust with grantees and then fund accordingly (read: flexibly!
- Grant makers must acknowledge what they don’t know. And then ask the experts.
- Think long term and stop making one-year grants.
Let us commit to asking whether our daily mind-sets, priorities, and institutional processes are equipped to meet the bigness and urgency of the challenges bearing down on humanity today.