RPA’s Shifting Systems Initiative has published a new report, Courage to Transform: Funding Systems Change for Lasting Impactwhich distills key findings from an event at the Skoll World Forum 2023. The event, hosted by the Shifting Systems Initiative, featured a panel of experts followed by facilitated table discussions focused on numerous challenges facing philanthropy.

The panel, featuring Kathy Reich, Ford Foundation; Kumi Naidoo, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity; and Alexia Pretari, Research, Evaluation and Learning Specialist, aimed to strengthen community relationships and promote collaboration among funders and stakeholders. The conversation explored the complex dynamics of creating a lasting systemic impact. Some of the key recommendations for funders included:

  • Urgently move away from the fixation on short-term gains and low-hanging fruit towards more enduring, transformative change.
  • Walk the talk, not merely talk the talk, on shifting funding practices and narratives to create more impact. Inequitable, stagnant power dynamics and cultural narratives remain barriers to progress. To disrupt inequitable systems, funders should actively work to cede power and change the stories society tells itself.
  • Look inward and challenge philanthropy’s internal power dynamics to foster an inclusive, participatory, and transparent culture that reflects the very principles it advocates externally. To do this authentically, according to Kathy Reich, funders should consider taking time “to stop and think and change,” and engage in this exercise with different levels of staff and decisionmakers within foundations.
  • Shift measurement lenses towards qualitative measures, and move away from an excessive emphasis on quantitative data. Take the essential step to embrace iteration and accept imperfection. View measurement as a learning and reflective practice, rather than a flawless process.
  • Embrace pooled funding as a key lever for change in promoting gender equality, as it fosters an inclusive approach in grantmaking that empowers women, facilitates gender-focused initiatives, and sets a precedent for equitable resource distribution.
  • Develop a nuanced understating of what it means to take risks and experiment. While philanthropy retaining its advantage as risk capital is crucial, it should not be taking risks for the sake of risk, or copying approaches used by the private sector without adapting them. Philanthropy and systems actors should take risks that are human-centered and fully consider the consequences for communities served.

Read the full article about funding systems change at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.