There is no blueprint for systems change. Social change is a messy, unpredictable and chaotic process that is often surprising and sometimes uncomfortable. Civil society organisations and NGOs play an important role in cultivating a healthy and diverse oppositional ecology. But by their very nature they are forced to ‘play by the rules’ navigating their way through the institutional landscape dominated by states, corporations, supranational bodies and other powerful players.

As Nora Bateson put it in a recent article: ‘The system can’t change the system. The rules of the game do not include changing the rules of the game.’ Social change happens when these rules are broken.

Social movements are rule breakers. For most of modern history, social movements have been at the forefront of some of the most iconic social justice and equality struggles, from the struggle for women’s voting rights to the civil rights movement. Social movements have the capacity to influence public opinion; to mobilise, motivate and inspire a critical mass to either start building dual power structures, or pressure parties and politicians to introduce, vote on and pass legislation.

Social movements make the seemingly impossible imaginable by shifting public opinion and altering the limits of political possibility.

For progressive funders there’s a risk of targeting the symptoms of systemic inequality, rather than its root causes. Any form of philanthropy that fails to address the question of what generated the suffering in the first place, and what long-term solutions there might be to end its continual reproduction, is little more than a gesture of goodwill.

The challenges we’re facing currently are of historic proportions. The triple threat of the resurgence of fascism, unprecedented wealth inequality and the escalating climate catastrophe together create a perfect storm that endangers human life on this planet as we know it.

Progressive funders have an important role to play in averting this disaster. It’s not necessary to come up with a quick fix to somehow reset the system. In our collective struggle for social justice, wealth equality, decolonisation, gender emancipation, LGBTQ+ acceptance, worker rights, anti-racist and anti-fascist organising and a livable planet for all, we each have a role to play. That of progressive funders is to redistribute wealth, to level the playing field, to channel resources to those groups and communities fighting on the front lines everyday for our collective survival.

The role of progressive funders is to fund social movements.

Read the full article about philanthropy and social movements by Joris Leverink at Alliance Magazine.