In recent years, systems thinking—a discipline that helps us understand interdependent structures of dynamic systems—has emerged as a powerful force for change in the philanthropic world. Borne out of the realization that significant and sustainable social change requires more than discrete interventions, systems thinking has become de rigueur for any foundation looking to create impact at scale. A 2016 publication on systems grantmaking by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, as well as recent pieces by FSG, Bridgespan, and New Profit have captured this spirit, and sought to provide guidance and direction for foundations navigating this new world.
But what does systems thinking and change look like in the trenches?
The Democracy Fund, which spun off from Omidyar Network as an independent entity in 2014, provides one example. The Democracy Fund’s mission is to help ensure that the US political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Given the complexity of this goal, we knew from the beginning that to produce the greatest impact, we needed to create strong, systems-oriented strategies that aligned with the work of others.