On the 25th anniversary of his passing, Ashoka dedicates this report to James P. Grant, a consummate systems leader as architect of the Child Survival Revolution and The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. He envisioned a better world, invited many others to imagine and build it alongside him while ensuring measurable results to track progress and build accountability. By making simple, low-cost health solutions (including vaccines and oral rehydration solutions) available to children around the world, he enabled world leaders to see the possibility of ensuring children’s survival through simple vaccines and oral rehydration strategies and thus transformed global health care. His life and work continue to have a permanent and extraordinary impact on communities around the world.

Jim Grant led UNICEF for 15 transformative years (1980-1995). His theory of change: “Children are the wedge issue for development and development is the wedge issue of peace.” He started by addressing the whole problem never being limited by immediate resources. He leveraged a wide range of power: other UN agencies, donors, political leaders, religious authorities, unions, beggars associations, media and, most potently, law (establishing the rights of the child), topmost political leaders (the world’s first summit to improve the human condition), evaluations (empowering political leaders as peer pressure on each other) and so much more.

He always weighed actions from the standpoint of whether they would further his large goals. And he used his unrestricted resources (based on expanding the business of UNICEF greeting cards) to build the best public and donor relations operations of any official global organization to leverage public opinion and support. His political mobilization of leaders directly inspired other world summits on key development issues, and the success of his global programs for children provided the model for the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN now has missions that are fact and reality based. Because of his work, scores of millions of children are alive today who otherwise would have perished.

To start tackling this need, Ashoka and McKinsey invited additional partners to join their annual collaboration and co-create a shared perspective:

Catalyst 2030 logo. Words: Catalyst in blue. 2030 in Green. Arrow filled with many different colors starting in a circle above the second a in Catalyst, continuing around the C in Catalyst, and ending again below the second A in catalyst. Colors in arrow: green, yellow, blue, green, yellow, orange, blue, green, brown, blue, and green.
Co-Impact Logo. Co with a long dash on first line, Impact on second line. Writing in Dark Blue
Echoing Green Logo. Echoing on first line, Green on second line. All in black writing.
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Schwab Foundation Logo. Four acute triangles in yellow gold and orange converging into one point, like a fractured sun. Words beneath: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
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SystemIQ Logo. Blue box with clear filling around capital letters SYSTEMIQ in blue writing.

“To transcend the compounding crises of our times – including climate change, rising inequality and the erosion of democracy – philanthropy must help humanity become adept at systemic change. This guide is a timely and essential resource for supporting this epochal shift.”

Stephen Huddart
President & CEO McConnell Foundation
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These recommendations are like a roadmap... for foundations that believe in system change but do not know how to start. We live in challenging times with great social, economical and environmental challenges; we need big and bold actions and this report articulates how funders can step up...

Claude Pinard
Executive Director of the Fondation Mirella et Lino Saputo
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Five Principles for Funding Systems Change

We propose five principles along which funders interested in supporting systems change approaches might rethink and adapt their current way of funding.

Principle 1: Embrace a Systems Mindset

Be clear about the systems you want to change, incorporating systems change into your DNA, and actively looking for funding opportunities.

Principle 2: Support Evolving Paths to Systems Change

Fund systems leaders with transformative visions of improved systems rather than projects. Invest in learning and capability building. Encourage collaboration among systems change leaders.

Principle 3: Work in True Partnership

Acknowledge and work against power dynamics. Provide support that fits systems change leaders’ needs and be mindful of their limited resources.

Principle 4: Prepare for Long-Term Engagement

Be realistic about the time it takes to achieve systems change. Acknowledge that the path of the initiatives will change along the way and encourage realistic ambitions.

Principle 5: Collaborate with Other Stakeholders

Align with other funders. Build networks for systems change leaders and leave the leading role to systems change leaders. 

Ashoka Staff Contacts

Please contact Manmeet Mehta for inquires within the United States.

Please contact Odin Muehlenbein for inquires within Europe.