Scaling Solutions Towards Shifting Systems: Approaches for Impact, Approaches for Learning

Content Manager • 30 October 2018
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Realizing that the world’s pressing challenges are becoming more complex, and often seemingly intractable, many philanthropic funders are reflecting on how to create more  transformational impact. They wonder whether they are putting their resources to best use, and what they could do differently to create more sustainable solutions to the challenges they aim to address. 

To help answer that question, the Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems (Scaling  Solutions) initiative was launched in 2016 as an inquiry: Can we encourage funders to work more collaboratively to place longerterm, adaptive resources to fund and accelerate scalable solutions targeting systemic changes around pressing global issues? Since then, the initiative’s Steering Group and team, with representation from the Skoll, Ford, and Draper Richards Kaplan Foundations, Porticus, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, have examined when, how, and why certain solutions were able to grow and achieve the system-level shifts that were  anticipated.

The initiative’s first report in 2017, Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems, highlighted  organizations that had scaled solutions and how funders had helped or hindered the process, and made five recommendations.1 It found that funders can help grantees “SCALE” toward shifting systems by:

  • Streamlining processes for application and reporting.
  • Collaborating more effectively.
  • Accelerating impact through non-monetary support.
  • Learning more about systems change.
  • Empowering grantees by intentionally shifting the power dynamics between the givers and receivers of funds.

In 2018, our research delved deeper into two questions that enable scaling solutions: how and why funders have successfully moved from endorsing approaches such as those above to actually improving their policies and practices around them; and what we can learn from existing funder collaborative models that aim at shifting systems, or as it is more commonly called, systems change. Studies have shown that funder peer-to-peer influencing and networked approaches are the best routes to improving practice in the philanthropy sector, so this report highlights many of the best practices we have found, and illustrates the kind of funder collaboratives that are gaining momentum and fostering the ecosystem for solutions to scale.

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