Greetings <<First Name>>,

From the vantage point of December 2020, it feels almost cliché to say that the need for deep, systemic change has never been more urgent. 

Among the many devastating emergencies we face, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, laying bare the systemic racism that unjustly benefits the socioeconomic interests of predominantly white and well-off people at the expense of everyone else. The pandemic has also revealed society’s systemic fragility due in part to the interconnections between access to health care, quality education, food and economic security, responsible governance, a healthy environment, and many more of the core issues we face as individuals and communities worldwide. The past nine months have indeed made it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a discrete issue. 

In her new blog, Garfield’s Senior Program Officer Eleni Sotos explores how philanthropy might adapt to more effectively address the systemic nature of these problems. This question has been at the center of our inquiry and experiments with grantmaking, systems thinking, and collaborative networks over the past sixteen years—and it continues to animate our work today. Given the current climate, surely it has never felt more relevant. 

In the spirit of our inquiry, we invite you to read on and discover: 

  • How funding collaborative processes goes against common practice in environmental sustainability grantmaking—and why it matters

  • What sets collaborative networks apart from other forms of multi-stakeholder organizing 

  • How a community of practice supports network leaders' ongoing learning 

  • The Cancer Free Economy Network's latest contribution to the field of cancer prevention

  • Resources and events on our radar

With resolve,

Jen, Mollie, Jessica, Eleni, Ruth, Motaz & Jennie
The Garfield Foundation Team

Transcending business as usual by funding collaborative processes

One promising opportunity we see at the Garfield Foundation for effectively addressing the systemic nature of the environmental, social, and economic crises we face is for funders to invest in systems-based collaborative processes. These processes hold the power to build new systems for a more equitable and just world for all, while supporting a more equitable distribution of power and resources than the processes of traditional grantmaking.

In her new blog, Eleni Sotos explores how funding collaborative processes goes against common practice in environmental sustainability grantmaking and why this approach may be key to building systems with the integrity and resilience necessary for sustained transformation in a complex world. She also flags the crucially important question: How willing are we, as a community of grantmakers, to re-examine our assumptions about how change happens and experiment with different approaches such as this?

Guiding principles for collaborative networks

Today we’re witnessing growing interest in systems change in the philanthropic and social sectors, along with a rise in the number of multi-stakeholder efforts, such as social or information networks, alliances, campaigns, and coalitions for social impact. Given this, it’s useful to explore what distinguishes collaborative networks from other forms of organizing.

What seems to set these networks apart is that they embrace the systemic, complex, long-term nature of the challenges they seek to address. Instead of relying on a single theory of change or the latest “best” practices, collaborative networks use basic principles to guide their decision-making and navigate the constantly changing contexts within which they operate. In her recent blog, Garfield’s Collaborative Networks Program Director Ruth Rominger shares some guiding principles—increase diversity, distribute power, build shared intelligence, and more—that strengthen collaborative networks for success.

Highlights from the Network Leaders Community of Practice gathering

October 2020

For the past two decades, the Garfield Foundation has worked closely with practitioners in the emerging field of systems change practice, many of whom build and lead collaborative networks. Several years ago we became aware of a growing need among network leaders to learn from each other and from consultants who are using systems-informed approaches in their work. We formed a community of practice in response, and in October the group came together for our fourth annual gathering to build relationships, reflect on each other’s work, and engage in heartfelt dialogue about what’s required of our networks and ourselves as changemakers in this moment in time.

Together we worked to establish common understanding about the participating networks and surfaced themes in their sameness and difference (practicing pattern spotting, an important skill for thinking systemically):


Among many threads of conversation, we also explored questions that will shape ongoing learning and experimentation:  How might we build diverse, transformational leadership in today’s climate? What might be the role of our networks in dismantling systemic racism? What tools are we using to create and strengthen connectivity between network members in a digital space? When your network has been most impactful, what were the strategies (or conditions) that led to success? 

Participating networks included the Food Systems Leadership Network, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, RE-AMP Network, Midwest Environmental Justice Network, Energy Action Network, Cancer Free Economy Network, and the Network for Energy, Water, and Health in Affordable Buildings.

Reducing the burden of cancer by addressing environmental risk factors

"It is now estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.”

Life and health should be in reach for everyone. That’s why in 2020, the Cancer Free Economy Network’s Health & Science group made it a top priority to bring cancer prevention to the forefront for many leading cancer and health organizations with a Joint Statement on Cancer Prevention. The statement calls for action to reduce the burden of cancer by addressing environmental risk factors, and specifically to prevent human exposure to toxic substances. Signatories include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Max Cure Foundation, and the National Medical Association, among others.

This groundbreaking statement, along with many other projects of the Cancer Free Economy Network, is an example of the type of high-impact outcome that results when a network engages deeply in collaborative processes that are  guided by systems principles. It’s worth noting that it is these processes—particularly around stakeholder engagement and systemic alignment—that network leaders tell us it is most challenging to secure funding for.

Resources and events on our radar

Hardly a week goes by without a new article or resource on advancing systemic change for the common good. Here are a few resources we’re learning from and finding resonance with these days:

Looking ahead, there are numerous opportunities in 2021 to boost your capacity as a changemaker for systemic thinking and action. Here are a few on our radar: 

  • School of Systems Change (Forum for the Future): Offering multiple opportunities for funders and practitioners to participate in learning journeys to build their systems change capabilities:

    • Investors in Change - January to June 2021 - co-initiated by the Garfield Foundation, Ashoka, Lankelly Chase, Catalyst 2030, and other partners, Investors in Change is a learning journey that equips strategic decision makers in philanthropic and public sector organizations with the capabilities to work on systems change initiatives. Deadline to apply: January 7.  

    • Basecamp#11 (US) - Starting Spring 2021 - Basecamp is a six-month learning journey to help change leaders navigate complex challenges, map and diagnose systems, and engage with others through far-reaching change processes. Expression of interest now open.

  • The Systems Sisterhood - January to July 2021 - Offered by The Systems Sanctuary, this is a peer-to-peer learning experience and place for women identified and gender diverse leaders working in systems change to find camaraderie and support.  Deadline to apply: January 15.

  • Introduction to Collaborative Innovation - February 2, 4 & 9, 2021 - Offered by CoCreative, this course introduces the key elements of Collaborative Innovation—a process model and an integrated set of concrete tools to effectively lead powerful change with multi-stakeholder, multi-sector collaborations. Registration is now open.
The Garfield Foundation supports changemakers in creating greater impact through systems-based collaborative networks. We think of our communications in the spirit of an open kitchen, a window into our practice and our experiments with philanthropy, systems thinking, and collaborative networks. Learn more at
Copyright © 2020 Garfield Foundation, All rights reserved.

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