Giving Compass’ Take:
• A report from Urban Institute dissects current strategies for funding equitable systems change in the fight to shift power and establish racial justice.
• How does philanthropy play a role in equitable systems change? How can you make sure your funding strategies are working for social justice, not against it?
• Learn more about the critical role philanthropy must play in pushing for equitable systems change.
A slate of multisite, cross-sector initiatives has emerged to address structural root causes of inequities by changing the systems that shape community conditions and individual well-being. These new, connected sets of activities were planned and implemented to achieve a goal that spans more than one site (e.g., a neighborhood, school, city, region) and involve a mix of institutions from the public, nonprofit, philanthropic, and/or private sectors. This report reflects on recent progress and shortcomings and provides strategies for initiative funders, intermediaries, sites, and evaluators who wish to evolve their efforts in ways that drive systems change forward. The findings highlight the complex intersections of systems, racial equity, and power that can work for or against systems change.
Our research revealed the following about how a systems change approach is shaping contemporary multisite, cross-sector initiatives and influencing results:
- The work around systems change is emergent. Initiatives are achieving components of systems change but not necessarily pursuing it comprehensively or intentionally.
- While operating at different geographic levels and scales, initiatives are pursuing systems change in
ways consistent with FSG’s Water of Systems Change framework of explicit, semiexplicit, and implicit levels of systems change, even if they are not explicitly referencing or following the framework.
- Working across sectors is a central component of developing shared goals across traditionally siloed
actors, building relationships, and holding all relevant stakeholders accountable for change.
- Multisite design can foster learning and leverage power across sites to change systems at a larger scale.
- Initiatives are driving systems change by building on past initiatives and coordinating across current ones.
- Long-term commitments are warranted for achieving and sustaining systems change.
Current practice leaves room for improvement, both in elevating racial equity as a stated initiative goal and
practicing it as individuals, organizations, sites, initiatives, and systems.
Funders can advance racial equity by investing in organizations led by people of color and women and in communities that have faced persistent disinvestment.