“The time has come to be bold”: Intersectional peer groups for collective learning, imagining and action.

Anne Monier, Reasearch Fellow at the Philanthropy Chair at ESSEC business school, shares key principles behind the where, who, what, how and why of intersectional peer groups.

On 8 June, Active Philanthropy and the Philanthropy Coalition for Climate brought together a diverse group of European foundation representatives for a moment of discussion and co-creation. Our aim is to set up peer groups working across Europe on specific topics intersecting with climate change to enable collective learning, imagining and action.

We asked Anne Monier, Research Fellow at the Philanthropy Chair at ESSEC Business School, to share on the role philanthropy could play in addressing the climate crisis and how she could imagine intersectional peer exchange at a European level fostering collaboration and bold action from foundations.

By Dr Anne Monier

In this climate crisis, perhaps the biggest civilizational change of all time, the philanthropic sector has a role to play. Yet scholarship on climate philanthropy has shown how little foundations have done so far – in 2018, it represented less than 0.1% of the total of climate expenses. It is time to step up.

It is important to tackle climate change in its complexity. This multidimensional problem requires systemic change: changing practices, discourses, representations, ways to engage with others. People are afraid of these big changes, but this is not a revolution, this is a transition. We are building a new path one step at a time.

“This multidimensional problem requires systemic change […]. People are afraid of these big changes, but this is not a revolution, this is a transition.

To do so, collaboration is key, although the philanthropic sector has not always been very collaborative. Scholarship has shown the importance of collaboration. Myself, as a researcher, I see daily the power of collaboration: cumulative knowledge makes us go further, and exchanging creates new ideas. Peer groups will allow you to exchange, share, co-create, find solutions together, help each other. I encourage you to foster these moments of collective intelligence.

To give you some food for thought, I am going to ask you five questions to help you think about how to create collaborative peer groups.

1. WHERE?

Where do these peer groups situate themselves in the whole mapping of networks, actors and activities? There are national coalitions focusing on climate, there is the European level with the Philanthropy Coalition for Climate hosted by Dafne, and now the international level with the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change hosted by WINGS. When considering a systemic perspective, it is crucial to define the role of each actor in the bigger picture.

The key: articulate the different scales, actors and activities to bring coherence in the whole picture

2. WHO?

Who are the peers you want to exchange with? Develop different peer groups. Exchange with foundations that are different from you and foundations that are alike. Choose different criteria: the size of the foundations, the causes they defend, the nationality. Think also about the stage they are at – different questions and different problems emerge if you are at the beginning of your journey or already quite advanced. Exchange with other sectors as well (financial sector, political sector…). Different combinations of people will bring different ideas.

The key: find a balance between diversity and continuity.

3. WHAT?

What you are doing is an interesting example of international and multidimensional project management. It can help to think in terms of process, steps, goals. What are the different ways a foundation can integrate climate into its activity (investments, programmes, etc.)? What are the different steps necessary to do so for each entry-point? Also: what do you need to achieve these steps and the necessary tools? For example, if one of the steps is to convince your board members, a tool with arguments to convince them could be useful.

The key: articulate the different scales – what are the main big goals, the smaller goals, the different steps to achieve these goals, and the tools to advance these steps.

4. HOW?

Use tools, ideas, ways of doing things that are different, to be creative. Think about new tools: collective intelligence workshops, games etc. Think also about new ways to learn and bond with others: mentoring between foundations, surrounding yourself with researchers, as well as with people who do not think like you and who will challenge your ideas. Also, listen to others, especially those who are often not heard. You want to see the bigger picture, not only the perspective of those who are close to you. Don’t stay in the bubble: be open to new approaches.

The key: find a balance between leadership and democratic participation to hear all voices and let people express themselves and embrace the richness.

5. WHY?

There are different levels of why. The why of each session: what is the goal of the session today? What are the take-aways of this session? What did I learn and how can it be useful? More broadly, keep a reflexive posture: always consider why and how you do things. Last, but not least, the existential why: inspire and get inspired by people around you. Find what motivates your peers and develop ideas that will touch them. Show them the way.

The key: keep the flame alive throughout the process.

I would like to conclude around three points:

Firstly, the importance of advocacy.

Spread the word, convince your peers, think about ways to convince them. Millions of foundations taking small steps will make a big difference. To do so, learn to listen, to really listen. This is not about just finding the right arguments; it is also about meeting people at their doorstep and accompanying people all the way.

Secondly, the European philanthropic sector has a key role. Scholarship has shown that most US climate foundations are big players who share a quite liberal approach to climate philanthropy. Europe has many small and middle-sized foundations, who are often closer to grassroots organisations and who can speak on behalf of this diversity and be the voice of the unheard. The European philanthropic sector can help redefine the role of democracy in general interest.

Finally… The time has come to be bold, and to invent new ways of working, thinking and acting. Crises are a great opportunity to improve societies and lives. Philanthropy is free, free to be bold. As we are approaching the COP26 conference, it is important to take this train. This is not as scary as it seems, because you are being bold for the greater good and, above all, together.

Dr Anne Monier

Research Fellow at the Philanthropy Chair at ESSEC Business School

Is your foundation interested in getting involved in our Intersectional Peer Groups? Get in touch with Karalyn Gardner (karalyn.gardner@dafne-online.eu) for more information.

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