Key Points

The philanthropic sector has come to recognize the importance of bringing a systems lens to its work, seeking to influence upstream drivers of complex problems, and being adaptive in its approaches instead of implementing static, multiyear plans. Yet, integrating these concepts into practice continues to pose a challenge.

Humanity United — a foundation dedicated to cultivating the conditions for enduring freedom and peace — had been grappling with this charge when the disruption caused by COVID-19 led it into a crisis response mode in 2020, similar to many other philanthropic institutions. That disruption also challenged our old ways of being, doing, and thinking, leading to new insights and actions related to equity and power-sharing.

This article explores the journey Humanity United went through in 2020, focusing on the disruption as a moment to bounce forward rather than trying to preserve the past. We found ourselves rethinking our old ways of seeking to change systems and embracing the future as emergent and unpredictable. We leaned into foresight, complexity science, and emergent strategy as tools for tackling this uncertainty. We pushed ourselves at all levels of leadership and staff to understand our role, our power, and how to show up differently with our partners in the systems we collectively seek to transform.

Open Access