Shifting Systems Initiative

In the face of increasingly complex global challenges, many philanthropic funders are reflecting on how to create transformational, systems-level impact. To help answer this question, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Porticus, and the Skoll, Ford, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundations, launched the Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems initiative in 2016. The initiative rebranded in 2021 to become the Shifting Systems Initiative and representation now includes Jasmine Social Investments and Chandler Foundation.

The initiative’s mission has remained consistent over its lifetime: To examine when, how, and why certain solutions achieve system-level shifts, and to share the lessons and recommendations from those successes.

Shifting Power to Shift Systems: Insights and Tools for Funders

Over the course of three months in early 2022, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ Shifting Systems Initiative hosted an eight-part Power and Equity Workshop Series. An invited group of funders and other partners committed to incorporating systems change practices in their work discussed the idea that shifting existing inequitable power dynamics is fundamental to effectively shifting systems and addressing increasingly complex global challenges. These honest and rich conversations surfaced several important themes, topics, and insights summarized in a new report. Read Shifting Power to Shift Systems: Insights and Tools for Funders now.

Power and Equity Workshop Series

The Shifting Systems Initiative is committed to hosting thoughtful, honest, and intimate discussions amongst those committed to making change in the world by changing their own behaviors and practices. The Power and Equity Workshop Series, held on successive weeks in April through June, 2022, was one path to accomplish this goal. Built around the idea that shifting power dynamics and building equity is essential to shifting systems via philanthropy in multiple ways, the invite-only series brought together funders to “roll up their sleeves” in examining their strategy, practices, and culture through a power and equity lens. Participating funders were called to identify the practical improvements they could make, and to develop a roadmap for making those improvements.

Shifting Systems Self-Diagnostic Tool

How far along are you are as a systems change funder?

Take this survey to see the degree to which your organization is systems-oriented in giving and program planning.

Access the diagnostic tool here.

2021 Skoll World Forum Session on The Future of Philanthropy: Transformational Impact

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors hosted a session during the 2021 Skoll World Forum event on The Future of Philanthropy: Transformational Impact. The session uses an equity and racial justice lens to examine how to support more systemic impact and draw lessons from funders and organizations that they support. Click here or below to watch the recording.

2020 Findings: Facilitation and Assessment

Seeing, Facilitating, and Assessing Systems Change is a publication that focuses on how funders can design for, and measure, progress on systems change. Based on workshops in Kenya, Colombia, India, and the United States, case studies, and evolving practices in the field of philanthropy, this publication also provides recommendations for:

  • How to better empower grantees through streamlining, collaboration, and increased responsiveness.
  • When, how, and with whom to share lessons.
  • The implications of funders exiting systems they have been supporting.
  • Recognizing and working with government and the private sector as partners in systems change efforts.
  • How mapping systems can help funders better develop robust theories of change.

Access the publication here.

Click here to view a webinar exploring the learnings included in this publication, featuring the Edelgive Foundation (India), the Ford Foundation, Fundación Arturo y Enrica Sesana (Colombia), Skoll Foundation (United States), and Instituto Humanize (Brazil).

2018 Findings: Improving Practices and Embracing Collaboration

Our second phase of research, captured in the publication Approaches for Impact, Approaches for Learning,  sought to identify

  • How and why funders successfully moved from endorsing approaches identified in the first report to actually improving their policies and practices around those approaches; and
  • Key lessons from existing funder collaborative models aimed at systems change.

Click here to access the publication.

2017 Findings: S.C.A.L.E.

The initiative’s first report, Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems, highlighted organizations that had scaled solutions and how funders had helped or hindered the process. In it, we detail our findings 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; and
  • Empowering grantees by intentionally shifting the power dynamics between the givers and receivers of funds.

Click here to access the Scaling Solution Initiative’s first report.


Featured Case Studies