Systems change must come in from the margins

Katie Boswell

I enjoyed Julian Corner’s lead article on systems change and philanthropy (Alliance, March 2019). It’s great to see a funder engaging with their place in the system and calling out the paradoxes in ‘seeking to tackle inequality by holding accumulated wealth’. We also welcome Alliance dedicating an issue to systems change, which reflects the huge interest in it that we at NPC are hearing across the sector.

Funders and philanthropists increasingly recognise that the issues they tackle are systemic and interconnected: from homelessness to criminal justice, inequality to climate breakdown. Yet – as Julian Corner notes – systems thinking is still seen as a ‘marginal discipline’.

The academic literature can be infuriatingly abstract and riddled with jargon. Frontline practitioners and grant managers want meaningful case studies, practical advice and opportunities to learn from others. Many are seeking to place lived experience at the heart of our understanding of systems. They are crying out for more useful resources.

Thanks to support from the Lankelly Chase Foundation, NPC has published two guides that have started to demystify systems change. And we have made spreading the approach a key part of our new strategy because we believe the problems society faces are too big to leave to the small group of people who are engaging with systems.

 
Next Letter to read

Constructive critiques are to be embraced

David Bonbright