John Kania, Mark Kramer, and Patty Russell Summer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review report:

  • We have repeatedly felt a nagging suspicion that the conventional tools of strategic philanthropy just don’t fit the realities of social change in a complex world. If funders are to make greater progress in meeting society’s urgent challenges, they must move beyond today’s rigid and predictive model of strategy to a more nuanced model of emergent strategy that better aligns with the complex nature of social progress.
  • The more foundations embrace strategic philanthropy, the clearer its limitations become
  • Strategic philanthropy works well for simple and complicated problems, toward which the vast majority of philanthropic funding is directed, not for complex problems
  • Emergent strategy does not attempt to oversimplify complex problems, nor does it lead to a “magic bullet” solution that can be scaled up. It helps funders to be more relevant and effective by adapting their activities to ever-changing circumstances and engaging others as partners without the illusion of control. It is messy and challenging, but far more realistic about the role foundations can play in social progress.
  • Complex problems and their solutions are influenced not just by grantees, but by the behavior of many different nonprofit, for-profit, and governmental actors as each entity pursues its own strategy. No funder has the resources to compel all other participants to follow its preferred strategy. This is why strategy must be co-created and co-evolve among multiple organizations, rather than be shaped independently.The Rockefeller Foundation’s effort to develop the field of impact investing provides a good example of how a foundation co-creates a strategy (had significant policy influence on the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. For the first time, international development agencies began to use impact investment as a promising new tool. They played a “decisive role” in activating a global movement that continues to grow)
  • Complex systems are not predictable, but they do exhibit patterns of momentum. By paying close attention we can identify when energy within the system is moving in a specific direction and take action to amplify or dampen their effects in order to increase the likelihood that the system will shift toward their desired outcome. Capitalizing on “changes that are already in motion”
  • The health of relationships between organizations and individuals in the system is often the missing link in explaining why programs and interventions ultimately succeed or fail.
  • Many things make up a system’s overall fitness, including shared visions of success within and across sectors that enable mutually reinforcing innovation, positive relationships between organizations and individuals that enable effective practices to spread, regular communication, and the resilience of players within the system in adapting their practice to changing conditions
  • Whereas emergent strategy is a relatively new practice at the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation has been practicing emergent strategy in many of its program areas for almost two decades.
  • Required of both staff and board in complex situations is the ability to take nuanced steps toward solutions, guided by a dynamic compass without relying on a static map.

Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review