7 November 2022

What if? Reimagining Philanthropy: How can funders ensure that partnership is the norm in efforts to drive systems change?

Philanthropy has the potential to catalyse collective action across sectors and is uniquely positioned to promote and scale partnerships towards systems change by being able to draw on flexible funding and innovative finance models, as well as technical expertise, reputation and influence, and diverse cross-sectoral networks.

There is an increasing recognition that only by supporting and working in partnership across societal sectors can philanthropy achieve transformational change.

Philea’s 5th “What if? Reimagining Philanthropy” event took a look at how philanthropy can embrace partnerships as a norm in its efforts to drive systems change.

Here’s what happened:

Philea CEO Delphine Moralis, Anna Hirsch-Holland, Programme Director for Funder Impact, The Partnering Initiative and Donika Dimovska, Chief Knowledge Officer, Jacobs Foundation kicked off the meeting by asking participants to reflect on how they see their personal role in supporting authentic partnerships in philanthropy. Attendees shared their varied perspectives on and experiences of promoting a partnership culture in the sector: from raising awareness and strengthening capabilities to facilitating funder collaboratives, from building understanding and trust, to shifting mindsets about what an authentic partnership might truly mean. When asked to describe in one phrase what the biggest challenge is in building authentic partnerships, most agreed: power and ego.

This resonated with the experts who challenged the group and inspired thought and further discussion:

Jeroo Billimoria, Catalyst 2030, kicked off with practical advice on what philanthropy needs to do differently to build authentic partnerships.

Tatiana Garavito, activist and facilitator, addressed the importance of partnering with social movements and the grassroots; the skewed power dynamics in philanthropy; and how the mindsets and culture of funders need to change.

Themba Moeti, Health Systems Trust, shared tips for funders wanting to support partnership platforms for multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Peter Beez, SDC Swiss Agency for development and cooperation, addressed how partnerships could be developed based on inclusive business models.

Finally, Sabina Vigani, Catalytica Consulting, provided insights on bringing about collaborative cross-sector efforts, and the role philanthropy can play in this.

With the concept of “questioning” being at the very heart of the “What If” series of events, participants reflected on what concerns them when they think of partnerships in philanthropy. Can funders play a role in creating more collaborative approaches between their grantees? What is blocking foundations from embedding the provision of long-term core support as a norm, which has always been demanded by movements? How can grantees be included in foundations’ strategy and grantmaking processes? 

Split into breakout groups, participants discussed what action points they can take forward in their work: involving grantees and partners in board and decision-making bodies; engaging researchers to support the development of partnerships and identification of impactful investments; and providing more data on the effectiveness of long-term support – these are just a few examples of what can be embedded by sector practitioners in their work to ensure that partnerships become a norm for philanthropy.

This event was organised by Philea and the PEXcommunity, and co-hosted by The Partnering Initiative and the Jacobs Foundation.

Reading (and watching) material to inspire your thinking:

Outcomes of previous “What If? Reimagining Philanthropy” events


Alina Shenfeldt
Programme Manager – Membership and Foresight