Cathedrals have been some of the most important infrastructure projects in the history of humankind. They have been places where people have come together for a higher purpose, to connect, to make sense of the world and to be together in community.
In many ways, they were unique infrastructure projects compared to infrastructure projects of today: they took lifetimes to build, they were built with many generations in mind, there were no immediate or tangible returns on investment and they were built for a higher purpose that served the common good.
So what is the modern day equivalent of the Cathedral infrastructure?
What is the intergenerational infrastructure that is needed for deeper rooted social innovation to evolve our values and cultures from ‘EGO’ to ‘ECO’?
Humanity now needs ‘infrastructure for systems change’.
What is systems change infrastructure? It is described by Joe Hsueh of the Academy for Systems Change as the ‘process that resources the convening, prototypes projects and strategy and develops capacity and leadership needed – in order to reach a tipping point for systems change’.
In our experience at The Finance Innovation Lab, our systems change infrastructure is helping diverse groups of people to come together to connect, to make sense of our complex world – and to build trusting communities that will work together over time. We are cultivating collaborative communities who will develop the transformative solutions that will solve our social, environmental and economic crisis.
There is good news.
Over the past few years, exciting niches of systems change infrastructure projects have been building momentum all over the world in systems such as finance, energy, marine, food, governance and public services. The Finance Innovation Lab. The Civic Foundry. Cambridge Judge’s Centre for Social Innovation. Calouste Gulbenkian’s Marine CoLABoration. NEON. SmartCSOs. Academy for Systems Change. IIED/HIVOS Energy and Food Labs. The Global Wellbeing Lab. SIG. Many of their stories can be found in the recent book LabCraft.
What do most of these systems change infrastructure projects have in common?
- They have a higher intention to create positive impact for people and planet
- They have strategies and core teams in place that work at a ‘whole systems level’ – to convene people over a long period of time- to tackle root issues of purpose, values and power
- They grow communities who innovate and demonstrate new 21st Century leadership capacities and solutions
- They host communities to leverage large scale change- such as enabling new policies and laws, investment and cultural narratives
These systems change initiatives are places where humanity can accelerate its evolution – so that all of life can thrive on this planet.
However there is a challenge. Funding and investment to grow this work is hard to come by.
- Often the very nature of this work challenges the vested interest and existing power regimes who are resistant to change – and control much of the financial capital in the world today.
- Additionally this work takes time. Although outcomes can be tracked along the way – real change at level of values and culture will likely take decades, if not a lifetime.
- Shifting values, cultures and power dynamics is intangible and subjective and is hard to evidence.
- Systemic work takes much collaboration – and contributions are often hard to attribute to one person or organisation.
It is for these reasons that we now need the support of pioneering investors and funders – who really get the urgency for deeper systems change approach and want to be part of shaping human evolution for good.
It is also exciting to see that there is a wave of new pioneer funders and investors stepping forward to support systems change infrastructure projects. Such as:
- Friends Provident and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s (JRCT) recent funding of over £250,000 into The Finance Innovation Lab.
- BIG Lottery and Accord Housing Group’s recent £3m investment into SOLVE -a 4 year incubation programme to grow social businesses. This includes the Finance Foundry – an incubator for new business models in finance.
- Open Society Foundations who are building vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.
- Omidyar Network who is seeking to advance entire sectors and tackle root issues such as education and financial inclusion.
- Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge Award (BFC), an annual funding award which goes to some of the best systems change projects in the world.
- McConnell Foundation who ‘foster a more resilient Canada – through transforming systems’.
- There is an emerging supply. And there is emerging demand. This is great news that gives hope
- Nexus a global movement of 2000 young philanthropists, due to inherit $10’s of trillion’s in the next generation – which will be the largest wealth transfer ever in human history. They are intentionally taking a bigger picture view to intergenerational systemic needs for people and planet.
What is needed now to accelerate investment into this new infrastructure for human evolution?
For Systems Change Architects:
- Design and develop strong leadership skills and strategies that deliver impact over time.
- Develop clear goals, impact and outcome targets and have an action learning process in place to evaluate and measure complex systems.
- Understand your market, your product and the value you bring to investors and funders. Then find innovative ways diversify your business models.
For Systems Change Funders and Investors:
- Extend time horizons to see the value of intergenerational returns. Think 7 generations. Think the 1000 year business.
- Be more open and accepting of the need for experimentation and trying things thing out that may not work. And to see failure as good investment in growing human knowledge and knowhow.
- Value the essential softer side of change – change in values, behaviours and cultures.
For both Systems Change Architects and Funders – now more than ever- we need to collaborate and work within and across our peer groups to grow the ‘investment in systems change infrastructure’.
For People. For Planet.