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Can Foundations Adapt to a Complex World? When Conventional Tools Are Not Enough

Are conventional ‘strategic philanthropy’ tools – such as goal-driven strategies, multi-year agendas and rigorous evaluations – really the solution to increase the odds of success?

John Kania, Mark Kramer and Patty Russell recently contributed their thoughts on the question in the Summer 2014 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The authors make the following points in the article Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World:

  • Social change is unpredictable and idiosyncratic, and rigid five-year plans are not suited to accommodate such changes.
  • Logic models often employ a forced simplicity, misleading funders who are lead to overlook complex dynamics, such as the multifaceted relationships between nonprofits, private sector and government actors.
  • One solution could be to employ an ‘emergent strategy’, allowing foundations and other partners and collaborators to co-create an initial strategy for change, and continuously modifying this approach as opportunities to bring positive change emerge along the way.
  • Foundations are well suited to address complex social problems because they operate on a long time horizon and are insulated from political and financial pressures. Nevertheless, foundations may be risk averse, and need both better tools to help them address the problems at hand, and leadership that tolerates uncertainty and is determined to pursue long-term objectives.
  • The full article can be found here.

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