Funding Systems Change

September 2016, Wasan Island, Muskoka Lake, Canada

Creating real and lasting change takes more than just grants and endowments, so what can funders do to embrace systems change? We brought 22 global philanthropy leaders together to explore this.


Many foundations across the world are increasingly interested in systems change. They understand that creating real and lasting change takes more than just grants and endowments, and they recognize that they are not individual agents working alone to solve a discrete problem.

About the retreat

In September 2016, we brought together a pioneering group of 22 leaders in their respective fields, some of whom were well-versed and established in systems change and others who were just beginning their journey. Despite coming from different countries and focus areas, the participants were united in their curiosity and desire to create systemic impact.

The retreat focused on funding systems change and was rooted in practice – we invited participants to share challenges and case studies, which opened doors to important insights. The retreat provided a unique and focused opportunity for foundations working on systems change, or moving towards systems change, to support each other, and develop practical strategies to overcome shared challenges.

We explored:

  • 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?
Insights and learning

We produced a report highlighting the learning from the retreat. The report is also intended to help 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. It describes several frameworks that describe how systems change can serve as the basis of strategy and design of system change interventions and includes examples of systems change in practice shared by four of the organisations who participated.

Partners and collaborators

We were delighted to work with Tim Draimin and Kelsey Spitz of Social Innovation Generation (Canada) Anna Birney of Forum for the Future (UK) and Rachel Sinha of the Systems Studio (US) to design and host the retreat.