Individuals from 14 foundations across two regions of the country convened several times over a two-year period to model and document grantmaking best practices that would "create healthy communities with widespread equity for all." The result of their experiences is offered to the philanthropic sector as the Common Vision Guide to Structural Change Grantmaking.
Participants in the Common Vision project came from a variety of foundations. Funders for LGBTQ Issues (Funders) got a chance to ask the participants some questions about their experience. Below are responses from three of the participants: M. Ryan Barker, Director of Health Policy, Missouri Foundation for Health; Consuella Brown, Acting President and Program Director, Woods Fund of Chicago; and Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, Philanthropic Advisor, Vermont Community Foundation.
|Ryan Barker||Consuella Brown||Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup|
What motivated you to participate in the Common Vision cohort?
Barker: I was incredibly interested in structural change and the role that policy plays in producing that type of change. I was interested in learning from peers and trying to understand how real and lasting change happens.
Ilstrup: The Common Vision cohort gave us the opportunity to work closely with colleagues from around New England while engaging in a significant learning opportunity to align our interests in social justice and structural change with our philanthropic mission.
Can you give an example of how your Common Vision experience changed how you approach your work?
Barker: I ask the question - "How do we produce real and lasting change around (fill in the issue)?" - a lot more often. I step back from the day to day grind of activity a lot more often and try to spend time thinking and talking about how we as a Foundation can address a given issue through structural change.
Brown: I don't think it changed the approach to our work necessarily but it did open up the possibility of looking at other avenues for systems change that is not necessarily limited to legislation or administrative rules as the only viable outcome.
What were some of the most challenging aspects of the work?
Barker: The most challenging piece of Common Vision for me was to actually stay in the frame of mind where we were discussing not just baby-steps towards addressing an issue, but actually creating structural change around a given issue. Often times I found myself needing to step away from the process and just spend some time truly trying to comprehend and picture what we were talking about. The work of Common Vision stretched my view of my own work and how we operate as Foundations in this country.
Ilstrup: The New England Cohort was filled with great people, great thinking and challenging ideas. The biggest challenge was the long separations of time, distance and workloads that often kept the team from fully engaging with one another in the process.
What would you say to other funders interested in utilizing a structural change approach to their grantmaking efforts?
Ilstrup: Structural Change grantmaking is, by its nature, terribly difficult and filled with mistakes, false starts and misleading paths. Nevertheless, the concept and philosophy behind it is worth examining and applying to the best of your ability. Over time the approach will almost certainly yield positive results. One of the major challenges of structural change grantmaking is the recognition that, in fact, foundations are just as much a part of the structure that needs changing as anything else within our system. Consequently, resistance and missteps are both natural and inevitable.
Brown: It is a great process for drilling down on one's theory of change and really forcing funders to think about what real systems change would look like within their respective grantmaking portfolios.
Can you give an example of a new grantee, or a grantee relationship that has been impacted, as a result of your work with Common Vision?
Barker: After Common Vision, the Health Policy area of our Foundation recommended to our Board of Directors that we broaden one of our policy agenda items from “Reducing Health Disparities” to “Increasing Health Equity for All Missourians.” While we haven’t made any grants yet under this new agenda item that specifically target structural change, we have been building relationships with a broader scope of organizations and individuals (e.g., faith-based, transportation, business). I would say that we are in a time of exploration and relationship-building related to how structural change occurs within health and health care.
Brown: We just invited our first proposal from an environmental justice organization and our board seems really interested in engaging in a conversation about environmental racism that it had not been willing to discuss just a year ago.