Fostering Systems Change
November 20, 2015 - Srik Gopal & John Kania, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Five simple rules for foundations seeking to create lasting social change.
Systems change in the social sector seems like an idea whose time has come. Several major foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation have recently realigned their strategic visions and priorities, choosing systemic change (defined, for the purpose of this article, as a fundamental change in policies, processes, relationships, and power structures, as well as deeply held values and norms) as the pathway to achieve their goals and make positive social gains sustainable at scale, whether it’s around increasing equity, improving health, or reducing poverty. Foundations are increasingly using language around “big bets,” as a new SSIR article highlights.
We’re concerned, however, that there remains a gap in philanthropy’s understanding of what a systems-change approach means for various aspects of a foundation’s work. To gain that understanding, we believe that foundations should pay close attention to five simple rules. (We have purposefully borrowed the term “simple rules” from the field of complexity science...