Giving Compass' Take:

• The authors discuss how philanthropists are uniquely positioned to implement systems change work, and offer recommendations to normalize this approach to social problem-solving. 

• What are the challenges enacting systems change work? Which donors are already leading by example?

• Read more about the roots of philanthropic systems change. 

Systems change – it’s an increasingly trendy phrase in our field, but what exactly makes it unique? Is systems change the silver bullet? Or another revised term that encompasses practices already common to us?

Systems change considers the underlying structures of our society and attempts to address the root causes of challenges, rather than looking at the separate pieces that make up a system.

Some elements of systems that are more visible include policy practices and the flow of resources. But underlying components, such as relationships and power dynamics, are also crucial. Embedded more deeply are issues related to mindsets and ways of thinking about the world. These secondary and third levels are oftentimes ignored or glided over, and not given the attention they deserve when analyzing the systems we work in. We are at the point where we must question and critically reflect on different factors and sublevels to solve the crucial societal issues we face.

Philanthropy is well placed to operate within this framework. Most of us working in this field entered it because we believe we can fundamentally change some part of an existing system and help solve or alleviate problems to make the world a better place.

So how do we normalize systems change to the point that we don’t even think of it as its own framework or a buzz word? Where it becomes an ingrained mindset when we set out to do any of our work? Here are the ideas we’ve thought of, which we share in the spirit of contributing to the conversation:

  • If something works, consider sharing it with peers.
  • Don’t underestimate government.
  • Think of philanthropy networks as allies.
  • Look at the data.
  • “Systemic change” isn’t only for revolutionaries.

Read the full article about systems change work in philanthropy by Sarah Brown-Campello and Lauren Bradford at Alliance Magazine.