Investors in Change: Insights From Funders’ Learning Journeys

by School of System Change

November 30, 2021

The School of System Change alongside co-initiating partners at Ashoka, Catalyst 2030, Garfield Foundation and Lankelly Chase set out to build an online learning environment for philanthropic funders and impact investors to explore systems change. In designing a modular learning course — Investors in Change — the School and its co-initiating partners explored what kind of learning journey funders, investors, philanthropic and impact investing professionals would want.

Graphic recording by Investors in Change facilitator Abdul Dube

In March 2021 the School of System Change launched the first of three modules -Understanding Systems Change — to a small cohort of funders, subsequently Funders Strategies for Systems Change in June, and finally Learning and Health in September.

Our Investors sessions steered toward an integration of practice: a blend of global guest speakers and contributors, panel discussions composed of our co-initiating partners and more, interactive group exercises, conversations and individual reflections, case studies, and systems tools and frameworks. Our facilitation team emphasized imagery through live visual facilitation (seen in our images above), music set by the intensity and session flows, and spaciousness to reflect upon the implications of systems change. The spaces were designed to value many different ways of knowing, going beyond the cognitive.

Throughout the six-month online learning journey, we gathered what we were spotting as insights into supporting funders’ learning:

  • Funders and investors are interested in working alongside other funders and not doing it alone. Having small peer learning groups can be fertile learning spaces.

"[What I came away with is] the sense of collectiveness that appears from everyone agreeing how challenging it is to abandon old linear thinking to embrace complexity."

Investors in Change Participant

  • In the spirit of applied learning, there is an interest to practice what they’re learning, whether that is bringing a new theoretical framework to their program teams or strategic planning process.
  • We noticed a real openness among funders and for going deeper into their own practice. This was very evident in the second module after establishing relationships and trust within the cohort in the first module, enabled by contributors speaking very openly about the ups and downs of doing systems change work.

"I appreciated listening to the course panelists and their individual and organizational experiences with systems change. It was quite beautiful to see such a group of smart people being passionate and highly motivated bringing about systems change: the entire conversation radiated energy and a feeling of companionship (“we’re figuring this out together”)."

Investors in Change Participant

  • While small group learning is a powerful practice, the business model and willingness to prioritize learning and capacity building is an early barrier to entry and challenge moving forward.
  • Throughout our learning journey, we have centered the question of power in systems change, further grasping the role of power and resources among funders and in relation to other stakeholders in our ecosystems.
  • We noticed a curiosity to look for patterns to deepen our understanding of how systems work.
  • Building networks to cultivate partnerships and capacity to make change happen takes time.
  • We ended our pilot modules with a strong enthusiasm about building a commons, bringing other funders on a learning journey, and creating a community of practice as an ongoing space to share learning questions and reflect upon the doing. After all, there is still so much to learn.

The School of System Change and its co-initiating partners are iterating and offering the Investors in Change learning journey again in 2022 in new two time zones — Americas-friendly and Asia Pacific friendly times. If you or your organization would like to take part in future programs, you can find out more and enroll here.

The School of System Change is also excited to expand the network of co-initiating partners. If your organization would like to join in the design and development of the Investors in Change modules, reach out to the School at [email protected] to learn how to get involved.