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

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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 leaders who have acted swiftly, with equal parts compassion and courage, to move funds and design new programming to address urgent needs of frontline organizations and the communities they serve. (You can read the first interview with Melissa Gavin, chief network officer with the RE-AMP Network, here). Erenberg is the strategic director of the Cancer Free Economy Network (CFE), a collaborative network of organizations from across sectors that came together to address the systemic issue of toxic chemicals impacting human health. Through its work, CFE is expanding the movement to protect people from harmful chemicals, uniting advocates and scientists working on cancer, public health, fossil-fuel reduction, economic justice, and more. …

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 together to openly explore how to deeply transform an unhealthy system, something awesome happens. People who choose to spend time together to build collaborative networks can achieve results beyond anyone’s expectations. …

Our response to the moral urgency of the times

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

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Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

The threshold of a new decade offers a rare opportunity for restating, reenergizing, and recommitting to our vision. We are writing today both in that spirit and with a pronounced sense of moral urgency.

It’s challenging to feel anything but uncertain about our collective capacity as a global society for creating the change we desperately need this decade, with the climate crisis escalating to a state of emergency, with studies revealing a constant exposure to human-made toxic substances, with strong evidence of destabilized political systems around the globe, and with the disparities exacerbated therein (among countless other issues of increasing complexity). Taken together, these crises expose, among other things, the limits of technocratic, siloed strategies and approaches to change. …

Our path to discovering our niche

By Ruth Rominger

Why does the Garfield Foundation invest, almost exclusively, in the development and evolution of systems-informed collaborative networks? What exactly are these networks, anyway? We probably couldn’t have even imagined being asked either of these questions in the early 2000s. At the time, we were asking ourselves a different, although ultimately related, set of questions about how we might experiment with new ways of working to help address the challenges we observed in the field of philanthropy.

Our answer to those questions was to experiment with a systems-informed approach to tackling a complex sustainability challenge that we would have typically addressed with a standard grant to one organization. We didn’t know what this would look like or what issue we would eventually choose to work on, but we did know that business-as-usual philanthropic practices had to change. And now, after fifteen years of grantmaking and hands-on partnerships, we believe that networks — the adaptive, self-organizing, and distributed kind — are a uniquely well-suited approach to designing and advancing the kind of transformative change our world needs. …

Designing change in our complex world

By Jessica Conrad

It’s likely no secret to any of you that the world is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to navigate. We see some striking evidence in the contradictions our current systems create. Take, for example, housing in the United States. According to recent data from Amnesty International, roughly 18.5 million homes stood vacant across the country within the last decade, while 3.5 million individuals were unsheltered. Or take our food system, which offers yet another unsettling example, with the United States Department of Agriculture reporting that 11.8 percent of American households experienced food insecurity within the last two years, while at the same time estimating food waste at 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. For all of us working on social and environmental change, it’s difficult to imagine feeling anything less than daunted by the mess we’ve made as a society. How can it be that there are six empty homes for every unsheltered person? So much food waste and so many hungry families? And what about the thousands of nonprofit organizations and community activists, and hundreds of millions of philanthropic dollars that have gone into addressing these issues? It makes me think that we just have to ask harder questions: What makes these systems so complex? …

Our experiment with systems approaches to social change

By Jennie Curtis

The philanthropic sector in the United States has, since the rise of industrialization at the turn of the 19th century, grappled with how to do more to improve society, do the work better, and achieve lasting results. And yet, philanthropy’s “operating system” itself has been a major impediment to progress: power dynamics, competitiveness, linear thinking, a demand for short-term results, working in silos, desire for attribution, and a lack of transparency all create conditions that make real change difficult at best. The Garfield Foundation isn’t immune to these aspects of our sector, however, we have been keen to find a way around these core challenges in order to unleash the impact we know is possible. As a result, sixteen years ago we made an explicit commitment to experimenting with new ways of working that might help mitigate these constraining tendencies. …


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.

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