The traditional way of working funding bilateral projects with one partner, one theme and a set of clear goals has shown to be too simplistic if we want to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As a donor, we need to use our role better and stop asking our partners for siloed interventions. Social challenges don’t exist in silos but in complex systems, and the solutions must mirror that.
Because, building toilets and providing clean water in schools is not always enough. What if the children are malnourished, there are no teachers and the girls need to help with family needs at home? It’s an illustrative example, but paints the picture of what we are trying to change. Working towards systems change entails inviting all actors – from communities and authorities to businesses and development agencies. It requires working to address taboos, social norms and cultural beliefs. It requires solid cooperation. And it requires patience since results won’t come fast, but when they start to show, they are long-term from the ground up.
Inventing next practise together
To create inclusive societies for all, failing established systems need to radically change. But systems change is too complex for any actor to tackle alone – it requires broad cross-sector collaboration. So instead of looking for best practise in siloes, we have started working in ecosystems together with different individuals, organizations, businesses, and academia.
Working with systems change is like a chess board, every move rearranges the playing field, and there are no clear road maps for the best way ahead. We prototype together, try, fail, learn, and try again until solutions with the power to make a difference can be shared and scaled.