A New Decade, A Redoubled Resolve

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. In facing the uncertainty of our ability, particularly in the philanthropic sector, to overcome current limiting practices, we as a team are holding on to the belief that in uncertainty lies the promise of hope and the power to influence the future.

Our hope is grounded in the promise of innovative ways of working for a better world — ways that directly address the complex nature of society’s most pressing challenges. So for us, responding to the urgency of the times means advancing and deepening practices around five fundamental commitments:

Understanding complexity. We believe addressing complex issues, such as climate change or human exposure to toxic chemicals, requires a particular orientation that entails:

  • Committing to confronting assumptions about how transformational change happens
  • Recognizing that no one actor, no matter how well-resourced they are, can solve complex challenges on their own
  • Taking time with our partners to understand both the dynamics driving the complex systems we want to shift and the strategies for doing so
  • Engaging those who are most negatively impacted by the system at stake to speak and take action for themselves in a manner that is safe and empowered
  • Experimenting with unlikely and innovative solutions

Investing in people’s capacity to work systemically. We believe it is essential to build the capacity of our grantees and partners to think and act systemically in their effort to address complex issues by:

  • Providing them with resources and time to reflect together on the complex issues they face, and to use practices that help get at the root causes of issues, shift mindsets that influence individual and collective behavior, identify patterns, and more
  • Fostering a culture of continuous learning and reflection on both what our collective work is and how we’re doing it, in order to increase our adaptability, responsiveness, and vigilance that our practices (as individuals and organizations) don’t embody the values and mindsets perpetuating the challenges we are addressing

Investing in people’s capacity to act collaboratively. We believe we must also support our grantees and partners to act collaboratively, which means having the time, staffing and processes required for:

  • Taking greater risk in working across traditional divides — sectors, geographies and cultures — with transparency
  • Aligning strategies and actions to shift core dynamics in the system at stake
  • Finding synergies and reinforcing actions among collaborators

Shifting philanthropic practices. We believe philanthropy could play a more effective role in the transition to a better world for all, with foundation boards, staff and grantees together:

  • Advancing grantmaking practices that incentivize and encourage courageous, innovative work that is at once responsive to urgent needs and oriented to long-term change
  • Matching the urgency of the time by deploying financial resources more liberally (i.e., spending more than the standard annual 5% payout in the U.S.)
  • Paying closer attention to the fundamental power differential that is part of operating in a world of scarce resources where foundations decide on the distribution of those resources
  • Investing more liberally in collaborative endeavors, such as networks, of diverse groups of funders and grantees to encourage coordinated action that leverages the work of an array of actors with different perspectives, including those with least access to resources

Building trusting relationships. Most importantly, we believe that shifting structures at the root of troubled systems is made possible only through:

  • Seeing trusting relationships within and between organizations as a necessary foundation for transformative change that warrants prioritizing time and resources
  • Extending trust beyond our immediate colleagues and grantees to new and unlikely partners

The practices for affecting larger systems we describe above are largely situated at the organizational level. We believe, however, that this work requires intentional focus at the individual level as well. In fact, we see strong interdependence between the personal and the systemic: systems are informed by the actions and decisions of individuals whose values, aspirations, and traumas are themselves informed by the contexts from which they came and in which they operate. As individuals, we must therefore, at the very least, create the time and space to authentically reflect on the ways in which we are both showing up in and carrying within us the many contexts in which we live and work. We believe it’s imperative to create space for others to do so, too.

For us, the collaborative networks process that sits at the heart of our grantmaking seeks to embody all of these practices. We firmly believe that this process and other innovative ways of working will support us in collectively ushering in a world of regenerative environmental, social, and economic systems. We boldly insist that this future is possible — and that it is still within reach if we walk the path together. And so, as we do with all of our partners and grantees, we invite you to join us in dialogue and in practice. We would love to hear your thoughts in response to these ideas in the comments below: How do these five commitments relate to your practices? Based on your experience, what other practices might we consider? What other ways of approaching the work (perhaps fundamentally different from what we have presented here) do you see as holding the promise of meeting the challenges of the coming decade?

Please join us in the hope that walking the path together will bring more courage, clarity, creativity, and power to all of us working toward a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world.

With gratitude,

The Garfield Team

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