Most foundations and philanthropists want to fund strategically and have a lasting, positive impact. However, the routes funders take to reach this end vary widely. A new generation of funders is radically challenging how the sector defines and achieves its goals — arguing that shifting power to communities is both more ethical and effective for long-term impact.

Community-driven systems change emphasizes the insight, leadership, and ownership of the people who are living and experiencing issues at the community level. It’s about communities being supported and trusted to create lasting change in the systems and root causes that underlie the critical issues they face.

Getting started in community-driven systems change means shifting — how you envision success, how you think about trust and risk, who holds power over resources, how you engage with the complexity and messiness of the problems and solutions, and how you evaluate and learn.

  1. Rethink what success means. Community-driven systems change is not about quick fixes, solutions that can rapidly scale, or traditional value for money.
  2. Rethink capacity and risk. CBOs are uniquely placed to effect lasting systemic change at the grassroots level because they have lived experience of the issues faced, have the trust of the community, and are accountable to the communities in which they live and work.
  3. Power to the people. Simply put, community-driven means shifting power from the donor to the community, so that key community stakeholders and their trusted civil society institutions determine:
  4. Embrace the complexity of social change. Traditional philanthropy often compartmentalizes and narrows its focus — something we’ve seen happen in many popular movements over time. Community-driven systems change takes a long-term and holistic view — open to multiple contributing factors, non-linear and complex patterns and dynamics, and both expected and unexpected outcomes.
  5. Data is still important. Data is important — to understand the community’s needs and assets, analyze root causes, map out systems and stakeholders, track progress, and evaluate impact.

Read the full article about community-driven systems change by Sadaf Shallwani at the Johnson Center.