The Opportunity Fund as a Test Case for Leading Systems Change
In recent years, there has been a growing understanding among philanthropic foundations that in order to lead a change and deal successfully with the complexity of socio-economic-environmental problems, it is necessary to broaden our perspective and look beyond the individual organization while implementing a systems perspective - one that includes the wider context in which the problem exists.
Philanthropic investment in various social programs has not necessarily led to the desired results and the longed-for change over time. Therefore, philanthropic foundations have demonstrated an increased motivation to lead a broad social impact with actions that deal with the roots of the problem, while integrating a wide range of stakeholders who have influence and engagement in the social field.
In the article The Water of Systems Change written by three renowned scholars of social change – John Kania, Mark Kramer and Peter M. Senge ,the authors offer an operative illumination and a useful model for analyzing a social problem and formulating action strategies that will promote long-term systems change. The applied model presented in the article is based on two main concepts: (1) systems thinking - an approach that Peter Senge has developed , and (2) the Collective Impact approach to social change, conceptualized in 2011 by John Kania and Mark Kramer .
The Opportunity Fund, a philanthropic partnership of seven Israeli and American foundations, was established to promote social mobility for young men and women from marginalized populations through national-civic service in Israel. The fund is an interesting example of the implementation of the model for systems change proposed by Kania et al. (2018).
The Opportunity Fund did not consciously act according to the model, but in practice, as we shall elaborate in this article, acted on its principles. The article, written at the end of the Fund's eight years of activity (2012-2020), illuminates internal and external leverage points for the Fund's operations, and examines the applicability of the model in change processes in general and in Israel in particular. Our discussion aims at assisting foundations and organizations operating in the social sector as they prepare to develop strategies for social change, and to promote systems change in a variety of social fields.
The first part of the article consists of a brief explanation of the applied model for systems change offered by Kania et al. (2018), as well as a concise description of The Opportunity Fund and the social challenge it focused on. The second and main part offers an analysis of the Fund's strategy of action according to the three levels of systems change described in the model.In the third and final part of the article, we discuss the key insights that emerge from the case analysis of The Opportunity Fund according to the systems change model. We believe that these insights can serve as an example for the leaders of systems change processes in other fields.