Since its formation in 1999, the Skoll Foundation has advanced bold and equitable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems by investing in, connecting, and championing social entrepreneurs and other social innovators that seek durable systems change. Over the past two decades of work, we have observed that these social innovators navigate through the complexity of systems change by engaging a wide range of stakeholders, juggling evolving timetables, acting on inflection points, and working in collective, collaborative, and creative ways.

Further, research reinforces the power of relationships to drive change. In “Creative Coalitions: A Handbook for Change,” Crisis Action outlines the power of exceptional networks as it relates to mobilizing collective action. Collective Change Lab’s research demonstrates how central relational ties are to achieving systems change.

In understanding the critical need for collective action and collaboration to achieve impact, the social innovators in our ecosystem consistently share with us that large, unrestricted sources of funding are essential to unlock the type of collaborative opportunities that are critical to driving lasting systems change.  However, funding like this has not been historically offered at the scale needed. As a result, social innovators tell us that true collaboration and innovation are difficult to resource and scale.

When MacKenzie Scott’s giving ramped up a few years ago, characterized by large, unrestricted gifts, we recognized it could have transformational impact on social innovators and our ecosystem at large. The scale has been unprecedented: since 2020, Scott and her team have deployed over $14 billion to more than 1,600 nonprofits. While we have much to learn about the broader and longer-term impact, studies by Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and Panorama Global shine an early light on what we are learning about the implications of such large unrestricted gifts.

From the early research on MacKenzie Scott’s giving, we see that large, multi-year and unrestricted grants unlock a wide range of potential in the field. In particular, it is encouraging to observe how these gifts enable more collective action and collaboration for the recipients and the social innovation ecosystem at large.  Through the findings, we see three key outcomes of big gifts emerging as key elements to sustain collaborative and collective efforts: the space to operate at an ecosystem level, to act and learn collectively, and for more innovation and risk-taking.

The social innovation and philanthropy ecosystems will continue to unpack the long-term impacts of MacKenzie Scott’s giving. However, one theme is already emerging loud and clear from the early findings of CEP and others: large, unrestricted gifts unlock and sustain collaborative and collective efforts through ecosystem-level collaboration, the opportunity to act and learn collectively, and innovation and risk-taking mindsets.

This data reinforces the experiences and observations over the years from the social innovators we support. We are heartened to see this theme emerge from the learnings, and we anticipate that these factors will lead to more lasting and durable systems change across the ecosystems Scott grantees are working in.

Even with MacKenzie Scott’s infusion of capital, there is still a need for more large, unrestricted gifts to promote this kind of collaborative work. The philanthropic ecosystem has an opportunity to shift and meet the needs of the field. At the Skoll Foundation, we will continue to lean into unrestricted funding in our work, and we hope that more funders join us to promote this type of giving and consider ways that all of us can embrace collective action, collaboration, and risk.

Read the full article about unlocking collective impact by Shivani Garg Patel and Kathara Green at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.