How we support our partners to advance systems change

— By Motaz Attalla, Jennifer Berman, Jessica Conrad, Ruth Rominger, and Eleni Sotos

From the foundation’s earliest years, the Garfield team has held a strong belief in the power of systemic and collaborative approaches for creating greater impact on the social and environmental threats facing society. That is, greater impact than the disconnected, short-term results typically made possible through traditional philanthropy. And far more impact than any one organization, ours included, could ever hope to achieve on its own. This belief is a source of our commitment to experimenting with alternative ways of funding and working. …


And how we put related concepts into practice

— By Motaz Attalla, Jennifer Berman, Jessica Conrad, Ruth Rominger, and Eleni Sotos

What type of system do we focus on in our work? What do we mean when we say systems change, anyway? How are these terms relevant to our work as a foundation? And what do they require of us and our partners, in practice, to address the complex crises threatening our lives and world?

In the conversation captured below, edited for clarity, I explore these questions with a few members of our program team in the context of our purpose to support changemakers seeking transformational solutions to…


Introduction to a Garfield team dialogue in two parts

By Jessica Conrad

What does “systems change” mean to us? It’s a question our team often returns to after having first asked it in the early 2000s. That’s when we began experimenting with different forms of investment and collaboration grounded in systems thinking. Now, as we look back on 2020, it’s no surprise that the tone of the question has changed, gaining gravity and priority.

On the one hand, the relentless tragedies of 2020 revealed in full contrast how inequitable our systems truly are. They also raised people’s awareness about how dire the need for systems change has become on…


By the Garfield Team – Motaz, Mollie, Jessica, Jennie, Ruth, Eleni & Jen

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

This New Year, we are feeling, at once,
the many dimensions
of the moment

We are frazzled, unsettled, turbulent, stressed

We saw the abuse of power,
over and over, Me before We

We are tired
of too little done, too often too late

We are present
to the enormous loss —
of loved ones to COVID,
of jobs,
of values shared,
of senses of self,
of the warmth of in-person times

We are raw — yet
we remain open-hearted,
optimistic

We are grateful
for the love that soothes…


Moving from urgency to practice

By Eleni Sotos

From the vantage point of October 2020, it feels almost cliché to say that the need for systems change has never been more urgent. Among the many devastating emergencies we face, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed society’s systemic fragility due in part to the interconnections between many of the core issues we face, such as securing access to health care, quality education, food security, economic security, and responsible governance. The past seven months have indeed made it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a discrete issue. …


With reflection on our approach to grantmaking

By Ruth Rominger with support from the team

At the Garfield Foundation, we think of our communications as an open kitchen, a window into our experiments with philanthropy, systems thinking, and collaborative networks in service of accelerating the transition to a just and sustainable world for all. It’s our hope that by learning out loud we will spark generative discussions that help advance and expand the practice of systems change. In this spirit, with this piece we’d like to shine a light on our most recent grants and share some reflections on our approach to grantmaking. …


By the Garfield Team – Jennie, Mollie, Motaz, Ruth, Eleni, Jen, and Jessica

Incensed, heartbroken, activated. These are some of the emotions we feel in response to the senseless racial injustice and violence we’re witnessing in the present moment. …


Debra Erenberg on the Cancer Free Economy Network’s response to COVID-19

By Jessica Conrad

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold with some states moving to reopen their economies, we’ve been following a bright spot in the story of the social sector’s response to the public health emergency. It is the story of how systems-informed collaborative networks are effectively and efficiently responding to the emerging needs of member organizations in crisis by leveraging their organizational systems to mobilize funding — in effect, playing a role that individual funders are typically not able to fill on short notice.

This conversation with Debra Erenberg is the second of two interviews with collaborative network…


Melissa Gavin on the RE-AMP Network’s response to COVID-19

By Jessica Conrad

It’s the moment of the novel coronavirus. A time defined by an unusual paradox. Stay-at-home orders physically confine us to our most familiar spaces, yet we find ourselves navigating profoundly unfamiliar and uncertain spaces in every realm of life. Melissa Gavin, chief network officer with the RE-AMP Network, reflects that “the playbook has been thrown out the window,” especially for organizations with small budgets and for those that rely on in-person organizing to both advance their work and fundraise. …


Guiding themes for working together toward transformational change

By Ruth Rominger

Here at the Garfield Foundation, we’ve been supporting and promoting experimentation with collaborative networks for 15 years in pursuit of an approach that helps grantees and funders engaged in monumental systems change agendas create greater impacts. The practices that make up collaborative networks have often been criticized as creating “too much process” in a field that prioritizes action and quick outcomes. Turns out, we’ve discovered these process-practices are the means and ends necessary for systems change.

We see in our work (and similar work) that when a group of people with sufficiently different perspectives and skills come…

The Garfield Foundation

We support changemakers in creating greater impact through systems-based collaborative networks. This is the space where we’re sharing our learning.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store