Strategic foresight

August 2018, Wasan Island,
Muskoka Lake, Canada

In the face of new and increasingly complex challenges and emergent trends, how can foundations become future-responsive rather than past-driven?


The practice of strategic foresight has been a tool mainly used by corporations, enabling them to steady themselves for the future and protect business concerns against the turbulent modern world. To take these strategic foresight tools and methods into the context of funding might give philanthropy the opportunity to build capacity as a means of taking a more active – rather than reactive approach – to tackling the most pressing societal issues. The practice of strategic foresight also has the potential to provide foundations with a longer view on society’s issues, and a greater ability to change systems in more profound and sustainable ways.

About the retreat

Global funders came together for three days to learn from each other, provide cases, stories, practical strategies and frameworks around how to expand thinking of what is possible, rather than predicting.

This retreat gave funders the opportunity to exchange their deep insight, knowledge and experience and support each other to answer the question – how should we fund the future? It explored how to engage with the emergent nature of our complex challenges, how to nurture the future scenarios we strive to see and how the field can systematically improve its foresight and leverage this into action. 

We explored:

  • How can foundations be responsive to emergent trends, patterns or external forces?
  • How do you fund strategically and emergently with future foresight?
  • How can foundations differentiate between short-sighted trends (bubbles) versus the early stages of future or high-potential trends that may deeply impact their mission?
  • How flexible should a foundation’s strategy be to respond to emergent conditions?
  • What theories of change need to be in place to enable adaptivity and resilience?
  • How can the field systematically improve its foresight and leverage this into action?
Insights and learning

This retreat provided a space to dive deeper into the opportunities and challenges that come with strategic foresight and to give foundations a chance to think differently about its role and accelerating innovation, moving beyond silos and short term cycles. We produced a report capturing the insights and learning from the retreat, and explores the practice of strategic foresight as one way in which foundations might consider their role in the future.

‘Future-fit philanthropy: why philanthropic organisations will need foresight to leave lasting legacies of change’.