November 12, 2013 From the President

Reflections on Making Social Change in Calgary

There is a new tide of invention in philanthropy in Canada today. You could see it coming at PFC’s Calgary conference on October 1 on the theme of Making Social Change. This gathering was a remarkable and exciting opportunity to take stock of the ways in which Canadian funders are working to bring about social change in their communities. The projects presented and the stories told among the 125 participants revealed to what extent Canadian funders are ready to tackle big challenges and to resolve them with promising solutions. We talked about exciting new strategies too: how to work in networks, to learn as you go, to open up to new ideas through “idea labs”, to acknowledge and build on “failure”. And we were challenged by some thoughtful and experienced social changemakers to think about what it really takes to be one.

Some of the things I learned:

  • Being a social changemaker involves and depends on trust, relationships, risk-taking, perseverance and willingness to learn.
  • It’s a good idea to bet on the jockey, not just the horse (referring to leadership as an important element in achieving change); and invest in process not just in outcomes
  • Social change has many layers and there is no single solution.
  • We need to be both patient and pushy
  • Don’t be afraid to stop funding and to change tactics if something isn’t working
  • Be opportunistic about your leverage points.
  • Resilience is key – to bounce back and to persevere
  • Social change is a marathon not a sprint; you need dogged determination.
  • Beware of the “rigidity trap”; be prepared to drop old models for new ones; don’t be too rigid in your requirements and deadlines.
  • Take time for reflection and to test your point of view
  • See innovation as continual – start, replicate, freeze, demolish and start again
  • Let’s meet for two days next time to continue this exciting conversation.

Calgary was a wonderfully eclectic and dynamic program that received rave reviews from many participants. You can be sure that we will apply many of these lessons as we continue the conversation about social change at our next conference which will be two full days in Halifax in October 2014.

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