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Funders Retreats: Reflection & Exploration

SIX curates networks through designing and hosting a unique combination of activities of different sizes and shapes. Retreats are one of the key activities in the Funders Node.  


Retreats provide the necessary space for deeper work, exploring specific strategic questions and an opportunity to develop strong, lasting relationships. They are designed as intimate gatherings focusing on a specific topic. They usually last 3 to 4 days, with 20 foundations from around the world and are hosted at a retreat centre, which is separate from everyday life.

Each retreat draws on the latest global thinking and practice relevant to the topic. The programme is developed by SIX and is co-created with the participants and other key stakeholders, ensuring that the time spent is valuable and useful.

The SIX team facilitates the retreat, drawing on 10 years experience of designing, curating and facilitating hundreds of events across the world. We create unique, interactive, non-hierarchical spaces that draw out the best insights and provide space for deep learning and reflection.

Previous SIX Funders' Node Retreats

Funding for Systems Change: September 2016

In September 2016, we hosted a retreat on Wasan Island in Canada with the support of the McConnell Foundation on Funding for Systems Change. The retreat explored different frameworks of creating systematic change, case studies of foundations who had taken on a more enabling role and were moving to more trust-based funding, and provided the space to dive deeper into the challenges surrounding this new way of working. 22 foundations attended the retreat from 7 countries.

Key questions included:

  • When you're working in systems change, how do you create boundaries around your work?
  • When funding based on trust, how do you measure your impact?

How do you account for power imbalances between actors in the system?

This report shares insights on what systems change means for foundations, and highlights some case studies of foundations supporting systems change. It is intended to nurture the emerging community of foundations working in systems change by codifying and sharing examples and practices from the pioneers and early adopters of this approach. The report was shared widely globally and the retreat was recognised as a key intervention in an increasingly global conversation regarding funding and enabling systems change.

Aligning for Impact: August 2017

In August 2017, we hosted a retreat again on Wasan Island in Canada with the support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung on Aligning for Impact. The retreat focused on the changing role of foundations, why foundations need to align and how they could do that. Together we developed a set of frameworks and aids for action to help foundations align around topics or countries. 18 foundations attended the retreat from 6 countries.

Key questions included:

  • What are the different methods and tools that enable alignment? What’s worked elsewhere and in different contexts? What hasn’t?
  • How do you align across sectors?
  • How do we know we’re making a difference?

Impact of the Retreats

  • Changing strategies: Eight different foundations who attended the 2016 retreat shifted their strategies directly following the meeting by moving away from reactive thematic-based grantmaking to a more systematic approach that focused on how they could best enable others to create change and at least three are reviewing their strategy following the 2017 retreat.
  • Strategic learning exchanges: Two foundations entered into a new strategic relationship (Big Lottery Fund in the UK and the Ontario Trillium Foundation in Canada) to share learning at different points throughout the organisations throughout their new strategies. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the McConnell Foundation are also developing their own learning exchange on systems change.
  • New global partnerships: Several other relationships that began at the retreats have flourished into partnerships with multiple foundations conducting study visits to see the other organisations, and developing new pipelines for grantees (including InterCement Institute, Brazil and SAB Foundation, South Africa, Big Lottery Fund UK and the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Germany, Comic Relief, UK and Mulago Foundation, US amongst more).


Coming to this retreat and being able to connect with funders across the world that are thinking the same way I am is invaluable. After the conversations I had during the retreat, I have reviewed the structure of my organisation entirely. This time next year, we hope to be a much more impactful funder.

- Participant at The Funders' Node Wasan Retreat in 2017