Why not just change?

Why don’t more foundations see themselves as in the business of promoting social justice? Perhaps because the language sounds too radical? Perhaps they think it is too difficult? Perhaps they think ‘social justice philanthropy’ is relevant only in other countries? Perhaps they don’t know what it would look like in practice? These were some of the questions that prompted a number of UK foundations to commission a report to tell stories of the ways in which foundations have effectively supported longer-term systemic change for social justice
The report tells the stories of how foundations in the UK and wider Europe have contributed to longer-term change in a variety of fields, including children’s rights, rights of disabled people, peace-building in Northern Ireland, the education and integration of imams, and whistle-blowing at work. The cases and vignettes illustrate a variety of roles for foundations and analyse methods and factors in success. They entail different levels and types of risk and tell very different stories; effectively promoting greater social justice is not just for the big, the rich and the radical. However, the report also reveals that while increasing the scope and sustainability of impact is not rocket science, it is also not ‘business as usual’.
The case studies (and the wider research literature) demonstrate that there are no golden rules or magic bullets in achieving change with impact beyond immediate grantees. But there are some recurring themes in how foundations work and what they need to look for in grant recipient partners if they want to contribute to achievement of wider, longer-term impact. For example, it is clear that change usually requires persistence, and foundations need to fund accordingly; similarly, effective communication is not an add-on but a fundamental element in achieving impact. However, the cases also suggest that foundations’ contributions can be so much greater than funding. The report ends with 12 practical tips for funders concerned to promote social justice via systemic change.
Diana Leat (2007) Just Change: Strategies for increasing philanthropic impact Association of Charitable Foundations, London http://www.acf.org.uk

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