There are always hot-topics and elephants when it comes to strategic philanthropy. Hot topics might be the conversations on operational effectiveness like the cost of overhead and administration, the rate of staff-turnover; or they might be issue based like climate change, gender issues or mental health. This Earth Day we are exploring what transpires when philanthropists take on these hot-topics and approach giving from an adaptive or transformative perspective.

NextGen Philanthropy & Earth Day

I recently picked up the book, “Generation Impact: How the NextGen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving.” In this book the authors highlight how philanthropy has shifted a variety of systems upon which our societies are built. These shifts did not happen without controversy. All you have to do is look at how our education systems, our healthcare systems, our arts & culture organizations and urban planning projects have evolved. Examples of transformative giving include:

Wicked Problems & Transformative Philanthropy

This Earth Day let’s explore some of the challenges around funding environmental issues and the polarity that ensues when the approach is about funding a problem instead of financing a solution. Climate Change is a complex, wicked problem. The term Wicked Problem, was coined in the 1970’s by Horst Rittel, referring to complex problems that have:

  • Incomplete or contradictory information
  • A number of people and different opinions influencing the discussion
  • A large economic burden
  • An interconnected nature of the problem with other problems
Wicked Problems orange and yellow circle graph describing the different components to wicked problems as they relate to Earth Day.

The galvanizing issue that the Rising Generation is coalescing around is Climate Change from multiple sides. As seen in political movements, in the rise of social purpose businesses and BCorps, the growth of impact investing funds around the world and how families are transitioning wealth and assets through Land Trusts, Charitable Trusts and directing assets to organizations who are addressing the issue across the spectrum. The impacts of a changing climate go beyond the environmental. Climate Refugees are the fastest growing movement of people around the world. Everyone is affected by the movement of people because population shifts affect other social issues from water and food security, to hygiene, to healthcare, to political systems. We can choose to tackle the presenting problem, like human migration, or we can choose to tackle the systemic problem, Climate Change. Addressing the presenting problem means we are funding a problem; addressing the systemic problem means we are financing a solution.

This isn’t a post about whether you believe climate change is man-made or not. Nor is it about the influence of foriegn funders on lobbying groups. Rather, this is a post to highlight how complex social issues, like climate change can actually be an issue that brings the poles together. Complex issues are not solved by a silver bullet, rather, they are solved by bringing together different perspectives in a safe space to design a variety of approaches along a continuum of care.

The Resources that Bind – Time, Talent, Treasures & Ties

What are the characteristics that allow for different groups to come together to solve a problem? There are four resources that we all bring to problem solving – Time, Talent, Treasures and Ties. Each of these resources connect with the following characteristics thereby making this approach to transformational or adaptive philanthropy possible:

  • Participants don’t come in assuming we know the answer, which means that the voice of the “mushy middle” can be heard
  • Culture is taken into consideration when architecting the problem, designing a solution and testing it
  • End-user is at the centre of the problem and solution. As opposed to the charity or the funder being at the centre, thereby allowing for an honest exploration of the solution as the conflicts of interest are managed
  • Investment of time up-front – this is the one resource that people can’t get back, so it is the most valuable investment and contribution from every person around the table
  • Failure is okay because it is how we learn and the process is set-up to ensure that there is rapid failure along with the expectations that learnings will be shared with the broader community
  • A feedback loop is built into the design process
  • The collective minimizes risks by engaging a diverse group of people
  • It is understood, and expected, that everyone provides resources and tools throughout the experience so that stakeholders are engaged and incentivized.

So this Earth Day, I encourage you to consider how you use your resources of Time, Talent, Treasures and Ties to support the projects and organizations that are important to you. To help you map out your resources we have created the 4T’s worksheet. Use this to evaluate what you will contribute to solving the problem or issues that interest you.