Systems Philanthropy

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Thursday, 15 February 2018

I am inspired by some strengthening trends in philanthropy, particularly the concept of Systems Philanthropy, which aims to focus on some of philanthropy’s work on systems change – “on identifying the organisations and individuals already working on a problem, and helping them join forces to achieve their common good.” (Solving the Worlds’ Biggest Problems: Better Philanthropy through Systems Change, SSIR, April 2017)

The idea of philanthropy funding networks and collaborations focused on a common goal has been of great interest to me for a few years. There is a lot more that can be achieved if we work across organisations and sectors with a shared vision, whether that is in increasing the supply of affordable housing, creating a sustainable food system or increasing community resilience in the face of major weather events such as heatwaves or disasters. 

At Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation we are taking a systems philanthropy approach to some of our key priority areas of concern.

Last week we invited community housing organisations to apply for our Affordable Housing Challenge which is providing a $1 million grant and a potential $2 million impact investment loan to support the construction of 50 new housing units on a very well-located site in Melbourne. The cross section of advisers who are working with us on the Challenge Advisory Committee include an architect, a developer, government agencies, a local government, lawyers, people with knowledge of the community housing sector and urban planning academics.

What a wonderful power house of knowledge about the challenge of increasing the supply of affordable housing in Melbourne.

It was an uplifting moment when I attended the Great Local Lunch, a growing event at the Sustainable Living Festival, which the Foundation has supported for several years. Two hundred and fifty local food producers (urban farmers) all pooled their produce and a wonderful lunch was created by a team of chefs from social enterprise, Kinfolk. The lunch was hosted by Costa Georgiadis, who partnered with us on a campaign to raise funds for community gardens led by Cultivating Community.  Growing a network of people of all backgrounds and ages committed to healthy, local food is inspiring.

Building on this, we also funded recently Sustain Food Network to establish a Food Hub in the inner north of Melbourne, which will bring together a home for Melbourne Farmers Market, education facilities, an orchard and much more. This is a first for Melbourne.

Systems philanthropy makes you step back and consider the challenge from a wider perspective. We need to ask ourselves these questions: Which thought leaders and organisations need to be in the network or collaboration? What ideas and resources can be shared? What additional research do we need to understand the issue? How will we communicate and get together? Do we understand the policy context and where philanthropy can make its best impact? How will we evaluate our work? 

All of these elements might need institutional or financial support. That is where philanthropy can play a role.

Catherine Brown
Chief Executive Officer

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