As philanthropy grapples with weighty questions about its responsibility and role in addressing systemic issues, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Shifting Systems Initiative are diving deeper into issues the initiative has explored since its inception in 2016.

Dilemma 1: How do initiatives to influence philanthropy contribute to transformative rather than performative change?
Progressive philanthropy must confront its own tendencies to remain neutral or agnostic toward systemic transformation. Instead of scaling existing programs or focusing only on top-level changes (like policies), philanthropy should also aim to shift the underlying power dynamics, relationships, and mental models that perpetuate systemic issues where those systems have unjust outcomes.

Dilemma 2: How should global north, predominantly white-led initiatives approach efforts to influence the philanthropic sector?
Philanthropic institutions, particularly those led by individuals from the global north, need to be aware of their complicity in perpetuating the crises we face today. These institutions should not exploit activists, grassroots organizations, or communities for their knowledge without offering adequate support. Instead, philanthropy should learn from and collaborate with these change-makers in a power-aware manner.

Dilemma 3: How could (or should) aligned initiatives and efforts to influence philanthropy relate to one another to accelerate the transformation of philanthropy?
Philanthropy can serve as a catalyst for change, but it needs to do so responsibly by changing the environment in which the sector operates. Some suggestions include:

  • Fostering Creative Conditions: Philanthropy can set the stage for new ways of thinking by supporting change-makers and showcasing their work.
  • Engaging Authentically: Philanthropic organizations should deeply listen to the communities they serve and act upon what they hear, rather than seeing themselves as the saviors or experts.
  • Reframing Risk: Instead of a funder-centric view that is averse to uncertainty, philanthropy needs to consider the greater risk of underfunding transformative work while perpetuating systemic issues.

Read the full article about systemic change in philanthropy by Heather Grady, Caroline Suozzi and Olga Tarasov at Alliance Magazine.