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Introduction to the Year on Power

Project: Funders Node


Over the course of several years, SIX has hosted retreats and conducted research on topics that were keeping our closest funder friends awake at night. Our SIX Funders Node work included convening, scanning and building capacity around questions like: how to strengthen social cohesion and encourage more risk-taking in a rapidly changing world; how to fund systems change, how to employ strategic foresight and how to use data to address complex challenges; how to manage the tensions between philanthropy and the private sector and how to meaningfully align for impact.

Looking at these topics through the lens of 2020, we find one theme that underlines them all and only continues to grow louder: power. So we’ve adapted three guiding inquiries into the forms of power that we’ve heard need further interrogation:

Power in terms of:

  • Philanthropic efforts to build resilience and adaptive capacity in service of communities facing different futures and challenges;

  • Philanthropy renegotiating its relationship with government in times of crisis and in fast-changing societies;

  • Philanthropy’s unique role in shaping disruptive technology’s impact on society.

Important power dynamics to address

Philanthropy itself is entrenched with power dynamics which can perpetuate the very inequality the sector seeks to address, and increasingly so, philanthropy faces the challenge of finding its effective and authentic place from which to address these issues. To decentralise power, funders need humility and an acceptance that this work entails the inevitable surrendering of some of their organisational and individual power. 

What does philanthropy look like around the world?

We believe that philanthropy can play an important role in ambitious social change and we recognise that ‘philanthropy’ is a broad church: it can be written in big ‘P’ and small ‘p’, and it doesn’t have only one place in only one society; it sits and fits within many unique systems, depending on countless factors such as where it is in the world, how and how long the concept of philanthropy has existed, how it partners with and benefits others, what other sectors (like government, like business) see their role is in social development, and how many crises it has witnessed and responded to within the memory of a generation, and so on.

What does effective and authentic philanthropy look like?

The Year on Power will continue the work of the SIX Funders Node in being a pioneering demonstration of how philanthropy should engage, in being challenged and challenging, in providing a safe, reflective space for the global exchange of experiences and knowledge, and in working more effectively and authentically to drive positive social change. 

What is happening during the Year on Power programme?
  • Global dialogues to engage deeply with new insights and contextualise knowledge
  • Practical learning exchanges which ‘go beyond talk’ and provide an action-oriented contribution to the sector

  • Driving new discussions, highlighting different perspectives, and provoking new ways of doing things

  • Prioritising diversity and bringing in new perspectives from different countries

  • Collaborations which build unlikely connections, surface blindspots, and prevent siloes

  • Global synthesising on the future directions of the sector 

  • Content partnerships with philanthropy press in UK, Australia and India

  • Virtual convening experiments and mini-retreat formats

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