Embracing complexity

Towards a shared understanding of funding systems change

January 2020101 pages Systems change Download as PDF (854.4 KB)
Published by
Ashoka Deutschland gGmbH and McKinsey & Company, Inc.

This report is a collaborative effort of funders, intermediaries and systems change leaders who aim to send a signal to the social sector funding community - including philanthropists, foundations, impact investors, corporate donors, government
agencies and multilateral organisations - that current practices need to evolve to better support systems change leaders.

The report proposes five principles and resulting practices that funders can adopt to better support systems change work. These come out of existing literature on funding systems change, more than 60 interviews with funders, intermediaries and systems change leaders, and a survey of over 110 systems change leaders. 

  • Embrace a systems mindset by being clear about the systems you want to change, incorporating systems change into your DNA, and actively looking for funding opportunities
  • Support evolving paths to systems change by funding systems leaders with transformative visions of improved systems rather than projects, investing in learning and capability building and encouraging collaboration among systems change leaders 
  • Work in true partnership by acknowledging and working against power dynamics, providing support that fits systems change leaders’ needs, and being mindful of their limited resources
  • Prepare for long-term engagement by being realistic about the time it takes to achieve systems change, acknowledging that the path of the initiatives will change along the way and encouraging realistic ambitions
  • Collaborate with other stakeholders by aligning with other funders, building networks for systems change leaders, and leaving the leading role to systems change leaders.