This is the decade that matters for delivering on our most existential social problems. In 10 years, we will look back and ask ourselves — whether on climate change, on the health of democratic societies across the globe, on inequality and human rights and so much more — if our decisions made a lasting difference. If not, we’ll find ourselves treating worsening symptoms of underlying problems.
Many philanthropists know this. In fact, the conversation about “systems change” has exploded over the last couple of years. Systems change is still misunderstood, but at its core it involves tackling the root causes of a social problem (say, homelessness) by changing policies, power dynamics, the flow of money, talent, and other resources — and sometimes even transforming customs and mind-sets.
Think of people like Rosanne Haggerty, founder of the nonprofit Community Solutions, whose focus has long been on how to end homelessness permanently rather than build more homeless shelters. A solution like hers involves taking into consideration whether people have adequate economic opportunities as well as whether we have in place affordable housing policies and efforts to treat people with mental-health problems and substance addiction — and to remove the stigma that follows them. It takes tremendous coordination. And it works.