Dear <<First Name>>,

What do we mean when we say systems change? It’s a question our team often returns to after having first asked it in the early 2000s. At the time, we were frustrated by the siloing of issues and organizations in the social sector and the lack of progress on environmental issues relative to the time, energy, and resources invested in solutions. Motivated to explore new ways of working, we began experimenting with different forms of investment and collaboration grounded in systems thinking. Our experiments have enabled us and our partners to work at the intersection of social and environmental issues with greater integrity, for greater impact. 

As we look back on the last year and a half, it’s no surprise that the tone of the question—what do we mean when we say systems change?—has changed, gaining gravity and priority. On the one hand, the relentless tragedies of 2020 revealed in full contrast how inequitable our systems truly are. They also raised people’s awareness about the systemic nature of society’s problems. Meanwhile, more and more organizations in the social sector have begun describing their approach as being in service of systems change. Yet the terms—systemic, systems change, systems approach etc—don’t seem to be well defined in broad use or in the field of systems change itself.

With this language now firmly in the zeitgeist of the social sector, and growing in use in the general public, we see an opportunity to help clarify definitions. In our latest two-part blog, we explore what systems change means to us and how we apply the concept in practice through the foundation’s activities. Our hope is that by helping people develop shared understanding around the concepts, we will strengthen the field’s ability to develop and share systems change practices with more people to create greater impact.

In the same spirit of strengthening the field, we invite you to read on and discover:

With resolve,

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

Celebrating our recognition from the Catalyst 2030 Awards

We are deeply honored to receive recognition from the 2021 Catalyst 2030 Awards in the small donor organization category for our leadership in supporting systems transformation. The awards celebrate the remarkable people and organizations—in philanthropy, in government, in multilaterals, and in business—who understand that we must experiment with alternatives to traditional ways of funding transformational change. Together, we are now building a co-creative ecosystem that supports social changemakers in fundamentally new ways to create a world where people and the planet thrive. 

We are also eager to pass on the praise from the award to our partners at the RE-AMP Network and the Cancer Free Economy Network, among the many other collaborative networks we have the privilege to support. We are inspired by their vision, heart, and commitment to succeeding in the fights against climate, cancer-causing toxic chemicals, and more.

What we mean when we say systems change 

Anyone who follows our work knows we believe that the practice of systems change offers immense opportunities for solving society’s toughest challenges. This explains our strong motivation to clarify what we mean when we use words like systems and systems change and how the concepts are applied in our collective work.

Given that this approach requires intentional work at multiple levels—from the micro to the macro—we also want to bridge these concepts from the social sector to everyday life. The work we’re talking about here is more than just collaboration and strategy setting within organizations or networks focused on complex sustainability problems. It’s about our individual mindsets and values and how we act on them. In every interaction. Everyday.

These intentions inspired our new two-part blog, which includes the following: 

  • PART ONE – explores what we mean when we use the words system and systems change in the context of our work, and what it means to put the concepts into practice by acting systemically.

  • PART TWO – shows how acting systemically translates into the structures and programs we create to support our grantees and develop the field.

We acknowledge that this piece offers our experience in thinking about the language and practice of systems change. We are confident we have blind spots. We hope you share what our reflections bring up for you so that, collectively, we might bring about greater clarity for all.

Equitable climate strategy by Midwesterners, for the Midwest

June 2021

Since 2005, the Garfield Foundation has supported the development of the RE-AMP Network, which seeks to equitably eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the Midwest by 2050. One of RE-AMP’s most critical programmatic offerings is its annual meeting, where members make connections, set collective strategy, and build capacities in service of the network’s goal. 

This year’s virtual meeting brought together 140 advocates and funders for three days in June to take stock of where the Midwest stands on climate action and get grounded in the work that lies ahead. At the heart of the agenda was a review of RE-AMP’s five strategic priorities: agriculture, energy democracy, equitable building electrification, transportation emissions reduction, and stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure. While these priorities have evolved over the last 16 years, RE-AMP’s commitment to a systems approach and robust member engagement in establishing these priorities remains the same. Rich discussion supported network members in identifying gaps, generating ideas, and narrowing in on a strategic direction for the coming years. 

RE-AMP members believe the best Midwest climate strategy is created by Midwesterners, for the Midwest, steeped in the experience and the knowledge of local communities. The network strives to focus ever more on climate solutions that center equity, promote human dignity, and make Midwest communities whole. To learn more about the network, visit

$5M Movement Infrastructure RFP from Mosaic - Coming in August 2021!

Mosaic is a national initiative strengthening field-wide movement infrastructure that supports people working to ensure clean air and water, a safe climate, healthy and just communities for all, and thriving natural systems. By bolstering connections and shared resources across the environmental field—communications, advocacy tools, training, leadership development, and more—Mosaic seeks to enable a more connected, powerful, just and inclusive environmental movement.

To work toward this vision, this coming August, Mosaic will open a second annual grantmaking cycle for $5M to seek collaborative project ideas that advance six areas of field-wide movement infrastructure, including communications, leadership development, advocacy tools and training, data and information, relationships & trust, and philanthropic innovation. 

More information about the opportunity can be found in Mosaic’s July newsletter.

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:

2021 continues to offer many opportunities to build your capacity as a changemaker for systems thinking and action. Here are a few on our radar:

  • CoCreative: Offering numerous upcoming trainings, including: 
    • Maori Future Making - July 27/28 - This session will explore social innovation from an indigenous perspective.
    • Introduction to Collaborative Innovation - multiple dates in September - This is a short virtual course designed to help you build your capacity to lead multi-stakeholder collaboration to help groups Connect, Align, Learn, and Make what they need to effect systemic change.
  • 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, including:

    • Spark Americas 2021 - October to November 2021 - Spark is a 2-month facilitated virtual learning experience for intermediate systems change practitioners. This course will deepen your capacity to lead transformational change by clarifying your developmental path as a systems leader, increasing your self-awareness, working with group dynamics, and more.
  • Interaction Institute for Social Change: Offering multiple virtual training opportunities, including the following:
    • Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work - Dates announced and registration opens in late July - This workshop that will support you in designing and facilitating challenging conversations that catalyze breakthrough thinking and lasting agreements.
    • Facilitative Leadership for Social Change - Dates announced and registration opens in late July - This workshop develops practical collaborative skills and tools for tapping the creativity, experience, and commitment of groups and provides participants with a forum in which to explore their challenges and aspirations as leaders.
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 © 2021 Garfield Foundation, All rights reserved.

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