Reimagination needed to focus on roots of our crises


Jacqueline Geis


No shortage of bold ideas to build new futures: Day 1 at TPW Global Summit

I was thankful to be invited by the Skoll Foundation and The Philanthropy Workshop to attend their Global Summit earlier in March. I find events like these to provide space – inside otherwise hectic daily CEO life – for reflection and connection, and the Global Summit was no exception.

The speakers on first day of the Global Summit focused on wealth redistribution, intergenerational legacies, digging deep into the root causes and not the symptoms of the multiple crises that we are facing down. Indy Johar of Dark Matter Labs asked philanthropists to stop addressing symptoms of the problem and to look at roots and reasons of our crises. He illustrated this wonderfully with a picture of an iceberg: showing the smaller set of symptoms we can see above the water and the much larger mass of underlying harder-to-see issues lurking under the surface, invisibly supporting the symptoms. Later in the day, a member of The Philanthropy Workshop shared an alternate form of this analogy when he likened philanthropy as Tylenol. I started thinking about the why: why do we focus on the symptoms? Why do we find harder to examine and support work that targets the underlying roots of our crises?

Roots are covered in earth like the base of the iceberg is submersed in water – we know that these supporting structures exist, but we may not receive daily reminders of their existence. They aren’t as readily visible as the symptoms. Since the structures aren’t as visible, perhaps the impact gained from of addressing these underlying structures is also harder to unearth, value, and measure.

I work in the human rights sphere, and think often on how to present impact in a way that resonates and demonstrates the larger value of our work. I had many interesting conversations about impact at the Summit, most focused on how to move beyond anecdotal impact references to speak to larger systems change. Several of these conversations sparked ideas about presenting impact beyond the numbers and metrics that we normally associate with impact measurement. The most memorable was one about presenting impact by gaming out alternative timelines, inspired by the Marvel universe.

Perhaps to really engage with the root causes we need to think more creatively – or ‘be smarter’ as Indy asked us in his talk – about how we assess and determine value and impact. Reimagining it so that it is based on the structures we want to see in the futures instead of tied to the structures and constructs of today. What if return on investment focused less on financial returns to individuals or companies and more on the financial return to the larger community? What if we gave space to think intergenerationally about impact? What does it mean to centre the development of commons in our impact?

These are all questions that I have been thinking about, both in the context of my human rights organisation Videre and more widely. There is no shortage of bold ideas to build our new future and to change the underlying structures that support this increasingly broken world we live in; we heard so many just in the Summit’s two days. But I wonder what we have to reimagine to give these bold ideas the space and resources they need to grow new roots.

Philanthropy must champion collaboration: Day 2 at TPW Global Summit

The second day of the summit started with a conversation between TPW’s CEO Renee Kaplan and Co-Impact’s Olivia Leland. During the conversation, Olivia asked a question that struck me hard: ‘What if instead of asking how one organisation differs from its peers, we asked how that organisation complements the work of its peers?’

It spoke directly to something that I have been feeling for a while now: that for all of our talk of systems change: our funding relationships still lean too heavily on examining the contributions of a singular organisation – understanding what makes it stand out among the rest and why it uniquely deserves resources.

This framing has knock-on effects: it pushes organisations into a competition and scarcity mindset. It signals the importance of the individual organisation instead of centering the ecosystem in which the organisation works. It can push organisations to overstate credit for work done in concert and with partners, instead of speaking directly to collective efforts.

Collaboration takes time, effort, and resources. It takes trust-building and strategy alignment. It can appear as formal, long-term partnerships, but also as a nimbler and fluid mutually-supportive connection where collaboration happens as and when the priorities of multiple players in the system converge. This second type of collaboration is critical as the various crises and issues that we are facing collide more frequently and that actors in traditionally different spheres – like human rights, climate, and health for instance – may feel increasing need for collaboration on a specific action or topic.

I think often about how to promote collaboration of all sorts. The human rights organisation I lead, Videre, seeks to make the systems we already have work better and more effectively for those on the frontlines of rights abuse. We collaborate in formal, longstanding partnerships, but more frequently in issue-specific collaborations. And, to be honest, those nimble, fluid collaborations are some of our most impactful; they are also the hardest to fund.

Olivia’s sage advice of focusing on collaborative aspects demonstrated how philanthropy can play an important signalling role in promoting collaboration. Digging into the question left me wondering how civil society and philanthropy can work together to build across silos and promote less formal and more creative forms of collaboration across organisations and sectors to work smarter and more effectively on the urgent – and increasingly colliding issues we face.

Jacqueline Geis, Chief Executive Officer of Videre

Tagged in: #TPWGlobalSummit

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *