Funding transformative changes: What if we had it all wrong?

This article shares interesting insights from the Building Bridges Week panel discussion about how to fund systems change. The panel discussion was co-organised by Ashoka and collaboratio helvetica.
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Source: Ashoka

How can the philanthropic sector work together with social innovators to support systemic change for a sustainable and fair future?

This question was explored during an event co-hosted by Ashoka and collaboratio helvetica as part of the Building Bridges week

Switzerland is home to more than 13’000 foundations, so the potential for impact is huge. However, the dominant funding practices, which focus on strictly defined projects that achieve visible results within a short time frame, are ill-suited to support social entrepreneurs who are addressing systemic challenges. Therefore, they often struggle to access the funding they need to carry out their mission.  

So, what can we do about it?  

Social entrepreneurs need to work with funders who act as strategic partners who understand their long-term vision. It is crucial that this matchmaking becomes more efficient.  Additionally, introducing more flexibility with funding and moving from project to core funding could help promote transformative change. As both Karen Tse, founder of founder of International Bridges to Justice, and Nora Wilhelm, founder of collaboratio helvetica, reflected on, creating systems change requires trust and patience. Nora Wilhelm mentioned: 

"Failing forward and learning along the way is crucial and should be focused on rather than assessing short term outputs only.”  

It is necessary to work with public institutions and adapt policies and regulatory frameworks for philanthropy, sparking change towards more long-term funding. Maximilian Martin, Global Head of Philanthropy Lombard Odier shares: 

"The default option for foundations should be to invest in long-term projects, and that they must justify themselves if they were not to do so.”   

Moving forward, the following alternative practices could support funding systemic change:    

- Allocate X amount of foundations’ budget to innovative systems change projects 
- Create coalitions to fund specific topics or projects
- Introduce a possibility assessment complementary to a risk assessment
- Increase participatory funding to reduce burden of decision-making on foundations
- Foster collaborations amongst social innovators 

In the end, "it is crucial to always keep the dream present to combat the root problem of an issue, and to translate this vision by communicating the possibilities that lie within a project,Karen Tse concludes. 

To continue working on transforming the funding sector working with social innovators, Ashoka and collaboratio helvetica have recently launched a collaborative process together with a number of foundations, philanthropy and systems change experts and social innovators. It aims to transform funding practices in order to better support social innovators bringing systems solutions to social and environmental problems.