Moral Imaginations
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Moral Imaginations

Reflections from my work on Rethinking Philanthropy with an Ecosystems Approach

Co-designing the EDGE Funders Alliance Annual Retreat and hosting a workshop on systems-thinking, ecologies and ecosystem approaches

“The yearly EDGE Europe retreat is an important convening to cultivate what brings us together in EDGE: The conviction that we have to acknowledge the systemic, interconnected character for the fundamental crises situation the world is in, and to seek for systemic answers, through experimentation and learning, together.”

Screenshot from the workshop slides
  • Learning from the discipline of ecology — from ecological systems, and how Nature organises, and applying this to the how we organise and work with groups. In funding, this can look like moving away from funding single projects to funding ecologies of projects, both local and thematic, and learning the skills of how to support those ecologies. This can be implicit or more explicit like at the Organising Like Mycelium course we ran earlier this year.
  • Decision-making: Many funders in the network have been testing out and exploring approaches of participatory grant-making. We heard from funders and activists from FundAction and Mama Cash who is making the transition to a participatory model of grant-making. Many of us agree it is a clear part of the solution — but in itself it represents a range of possibilities, approaches and models — and needs other systemic changes to support it.
  • Moving from prescribing to collaborative sense-making: using tools and approaches for sensemaking, collective ethnography, to take the place of prescriptive practices. This is really important when it comes to decision-making — can we move from solo evaluation to collaborative sensemaking when it comes to making decisions?
  • Measurement: What are we measuring? Are we measuring the right thing? What if the things that need investing in are difficult to measure? (i.e. relationships). What are we incentivising with our measurements and what are we not seeing?
  • Globally-scaled solutions to horizontally-spread subsidiarity: A complex system can never be scaled — but it can spread, mutated and adapted horizontally. What are approaches and methodologies to scale approaches across and not above and over?
  • Where are more spaces for funders to go to, to learn? We need more spaces to think together, compare strategies, support bold experiments, learn about new ways of working.
  • How to do participatory grant-making well? What are different models of decision-making we can learn from? How do we support those in the decision-making process to truly decide together? How to avoid competition, and bring funders and grantees together in new ways?
  • Do we need new narratives for philanthropy? There’s a need for a larger shift and for us to talk about it.
  • What is our role in the ecosystem? — Fund risky experiments
  • What is the role of philanthropy? — To inspire, stimulate and urge other financial actors to be progressive.
  • What does philanthropy enable? — Risk-taking, diversification of voices and actors in movements, collaboration, connections, action, access, infrastructure, reparations
  • What does philanthropy perpetuate? — Power of money with no democratic legitimation, Extractive Investment practices, competition, tax evasion, charity over justice, colonialism, a good feeling to be work in the sector but is it a small bandaid?
  • How could we understand philanthropy as reparations, not charity? — Can we hold a conversation about this?
  • How do we inform our decisions? — Inquiry of different knowledge and non-knowledge
  • Might we lean into our roles at the boundaries, as signal funders for more risky / social impact focussed grants and investments?
  • What are the things we will never go above or over (upper limits)? — Is it personal discomfort? What are our principles?
  • How do we contribute to the ecosystem? — A role for philanthropy in facilitating spaces for reflection, scenario building etc.



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Phoebe Tickell

Cares about the common good. Building capacity for deep systems change. Complexity & ecosystems obsessive. Experiments for everything. 10 yrs #systemsthinking.