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Greetings, <<First Name>>,

2020 has highlighted many polarities in the world today, especially those related to human connectedness. On the one hand, COVID-19 has been a unifying global event, confirming that we are all in this together, yet at the same time stay at home orders, higher rates of infection in Communities of Color, and closed borders have increased our disconnectedness. Similar polarities can be found in nearly every realm, and as we reflect on this at the year’s midway point, we are resolved to be part of that which brings people together. 

When we opened our doors as an environmental funder in the early 2000s, we were deeply frustrated by the fragmentation we saw in the field among funders, nonprofits, and the way we engaged the issues we sought to address. Since then, our grantmaking at the Garfield Foundation has been grounded in the innovation, adaptation, and learning we’ve done together with grantees, partners, and advisors from across the U.S. and around the world.

Our intention in launching a seasonal newsletter is to share our reflections and insights from our collective efforts to align and collaborate with the growing ecosystem of people working to create a regenerative, just, and vibrant world for all—and to invite you into conversation. We believe building trusting relationships, engaging in generative discussion, and learning together can accelerate everyone’s progress. Given the current global landscape, we simply can’t afford not to.

In that spirit, we invite you to read on to discover: 

  • Reflections on over 16 years of experimentation with new forms of grantmaking and collaboration grounded in systems thinking

  • How living into our questions led us to fund collaborative networks 

  • How two collaborative networks are leading through the COVID-19 crisis to advance the fights against climate change and cancer-causing toxics 

  • Our resolve to stand in solidarity with those who seek justice and systemic change

  • What we’re reading during these turbulent times


With resolve and love,

Jennie, Motaz, Jen, Mollie, Eleni, Ruth and Jessica
The Garfield Foundation team

16 years of experimentation with new forms of grantmaking and collaboration

In the early 2000s, the Garfield Foundation recognized how certain trends within traditional philanthropy—fragmentation, linear thinking, demand for short-term results, lack of transparency and collaboration, and more—were (and still are) impeding the social sector’s ability to achieve lasting results. This recognition motivated the foundation’s explicit commitment to find ways around these core challenges and put us on a path to experimenting with new forms of grantmaking and collaboration grounded in systems thinking. 

In her recent Medium post, our Executive Director Jennie Curtis reflects on the foundation’s 16-year journey with systems grantmaking and support of the RE-AMP Network and the Cancer Free Economy Network, two collaborative networks engaged in the fight against climate change and cancer-causing toxic chemicals. She explores what we’ve learned in the process—and what’s required to overcome business as usual through a collaborative, systems-based approach to social change.

How living into our questions led us to fund collaborative networks

Today we define collaborative networks as intentionally designed collaborative spaces that connect diverse stakeholders to create transformational systems change. Their purpose is to support stakeholders in aligning around a deep shared purpose, understanding the issue system at stake, identifying a set of interventions for affecting change, and forming agreements and infrastructure to accelerate aligned actions, learning, adaptation, and lasting impact. 

When the Garfield Foundation set out to experiment with alternatives to business-as-usual philanthropy, we could never have anticipated that the path would lead us to invest, almost exclusively, in the development and evolution of collaborative networks. In her recent Medium post, Ruth Rominger shares how living into our questions led us to find our niche and fund collaborative networks.

How collaborative networks lead through crisis

Interviews with leaders from the RE-AMP Network and Cancer Free Economy Network

In the wake of COVID-19’s arrival, many people are rightly calling upon philanthropy to efficiently and strategically support the many communities and nonprofit organizations facing immediate financial need, especially those that have historically existed at the margins. 

In this unprecedented time, we’re learning how collaborative networks are positioned to efficiently meet the emerging needs of organizations in crisis, including Environmental Justice and grassroots groups that may not have longstanding and established relationships with funders. Close to the ground, so to speak, and ready to mobilize funding through existing structures, we’re seeing collaborative networks make a rapid emergency response that foundations might not be able to make on short notice.

Interviews with Melissa Gavin of the RE-AMP Network and Debra Erenberg of the Cancer Free Economy Network share this learning and offer a picture of two collaborative networks firmly rooted in their values, practicing solidarity, and buoying organizations in need during this challenging time.

Our statement of solidarity 

When we crossed the threshold of a new decade this year, we determined to channel our heightened sense of moral urgency to address the escalating climate emergency, the rising health impacts of human and environmental exposure to toxic chemicals, and the disparities exacerbated therein to elevate our commitment to our vision. Today we draw strength yet again from our vision and values as we stand in solidarity with those who seek justice for Black lives and deep systems change.

What we're reading during these turbulent times

We’re grateful to all who are sharing both their perspectives on these turbulent times and resources to help us navigate them with grace and compassion. We’re learning from and finding resonance with the following pieces, among others:


Systems Change & Deep Equity: Pathways Toward Sustainable Impact, Beyond “Eureka!,” Unawareness & Unwitting Harm - Sheryl Petty and Mark Leach, Change Elemental 


Dismantling White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness in Philanthropy - The Justice Funders Team 


Racism Is Killing the Planet: The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposal people and a disposable natural world - Hop Hopkins, Sierra Club 


Cultivating Change Amidst Collapse - Lindley Mease & David Ehrlichman, Stanford Social Innovation Review

Leading Systems Change: A Workbook for Community Practitioners and Funders - Heather McLeod Grant, Adene Sacks, Jenny Johnston, Open Impact 

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 www.garfieldfoundation.org.
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