Welcome to Our Kitchen

Join us in reflecting on our journey with philanthropy, systems thinking and collaborative networks

We could have written this post a year ago, but we didn’t. The reason we didn’t is not that we’re more excited now about the idea of writing about our work than we were then. Rather, it’s because the idea wasn’t sufficiently anchored in what matters most to us as an organization — what we call our deep shared purpose — for us to prioritize it and make it happen. So how did we get here, and why does it matter anyway?

In the early 2000s, the Garfield Foundation launched an experiment to bring together funders and nonprofits working in the American Midwest to address climate change. The convening, both literal and figurative, continues to this day as advocates seek to align both their sense of the most effective pathways for shifting that system and the implementation of their strategies. Today the RE-AMP Network boasts over 130 member organizations across 8 states and has helped to advance key legislation and shift billions of dollars from coal to renewables.

With RE-AMP, the Garfield Foundation entered the world of systems grantmaking. Then as now, others would ask us what that even means. We ask ourselves the same question often. The RE-AMP Network was no walk in the park, and we learned as much about how not to support systems change as we did about how to do it.

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

In 2014 we partnered with advocates in the environmental health field to launch the Cancer Free Economy Network, whose goal is to eliminate cancer-causing chemicals from our economy. We built on our experience with RE-AMP, repeated some mistakes, made new ones, and learned a lot along the way. In our conversations over the years with other funders about the nuts and bolts of funding systems-informed collaborative networks, we found that our practices and process as a grantmaker had evolved over the years to support work in complex, ever-changing, multi-sectoral issues.

What exactly is the impact we want to have as a foundation? What are the underlying dynamics of the field in which we operate, and what are the strategic pathways we can take to effect the changes we seek? Through our own internal practice and reflection, we came up with the following:

Our deep shared purpose is to “Co-create conditions at the service of change-makers to create greater impact through systems-based collaborative networks.”

The pathways we’ve identified for accomplishing this are 1) funding networks and changemakers to use systems-based and collaborative tools, 2) increasing the visibility of systems and collaborative tools for change-making, 3) supporting ways to iterate and improve systems practice, and 4) improving our own capacity to do this work. Each of these general pathways translates into specific programs and subprograms at Garfield, as well as various collaborations and partnerships with individuals, organizations, and networks around the world doing similar work.

A common element across these strategic pathways is communication. Our current thinking is that by documenting and sharing our work we can help to make these practices more visible and accessible, and we invite the feedback and insights of others to help refine our practice and, with it, the field as a whole.

So, seeing as our deep shared purpose requires of us that we both help publicize the practice and do our part to make it more effective and relevant to the challenges of the day, and that communication is a key means of doing that, then here we are writing about it.

We hope to be writing short, candid posts — that are technical, speculative, reflective and perhaps at times even polemical — about the work we’ve been doing and the ideas we’re excited about. We’ll be writing about things we’ve learned that have been important for us or that our partners and peers have told us are worth writing about. We hope this blog will be like an open kitchen, a window into our practice and our experiments with philanthropy, systems thinking and collaborative networks.

Welcome to our kitchen!

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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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