Peer-driven change is a naturally occurring social phenomenon that has existed since time immemorial. Recall the 19th century barn raisings in rural America, where everyone in the community put their shoulders to the task; or the initiative and mutual support that enabled immigrants to build entrepreneurial lives in the United States and other countries. Whether they are creating a better future far from their homelands or striving to climb the income ladder, people experiencing poverty and other challenges are enormously resourceful. They often know best how to surmount their challenges. Nevertheless, funders have not yet fully recognized and invested in the power of people pulling together and acting on their own behalf.

So why is this charged moment—as the COVID-19 crisis continues to swell in the United States and elsewhere and as more and more Americans support the Black Lives Matter protests demanding racial justice—an opportune time for funders and other social sector actors to experiment with this approach to driving social change, learn from it, and hopefully advance it?

As the COVID-19 crisis gathered force, in many places the ties that bind neighbors and communities strengthened and spread. The pandemic unleashed a wave of self-organized, peer-to-peer voluntarism, such as informal food-distribution collectives and ad hoc, student support networks. The Black Lives Matter protests spurred a second virtuous cycle of people coming to the aid of other people—and other people returning the favor.

These unexpectedly positive side-effects of the pandemic—accelerating interest in UCTs and naturally occurring mutuality—highlight that peer-driven change just might be inching closer to philanthropy’s prime time. But make no mistake, for funders, peer-driven change can require a fundamental shift in perspective: to recognize and embrace the initiative, self-determination, and mutuality of individuals and families and to reconceive of them as “makers,” not “takers.”

Read the full article about peer-driven change by Rohit Menezes, Willa Seldon, and Simon Morfit at The Bridgespan Group.