A Transforming Philanthropy Large Systems Change Initiative

Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev on November 16, 2017

Tens of trillions of dollars. That’s the estimated financial wealth of the nearly 200 billionaires who have signed up to the Giving Pledge. Founded in 2010 with 40 of America’s wealthiest people including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, signatories commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Imaging Philanthropy for Life: A Whole System Strategy to Transform Finance and Grow True Wealth poses both a challenge and opportunity to this scale of wealth and most of us who give. The book is the result of a collaborative effort of members of a KINS4Philanthropists group using a KINS Innovation Network methodology, which is described as:

“…self-organizing networks of key, collaborative, high-integrity leaders in widely diverse fields who come together by invitation to achieve inspiring innovations while enjoying their kindred spirits. These networks leverage existing ‘conscious sustainability’ initiatives with powerful new ones to manifest innovations faster, cheaper, with higher impact and with more fun.”
The authors refer to themselves as an “open collaborative innovation meshwork of kindred thought leaders, entrepreneurs, change makers, philanthropists and investors”.

Their KINS participation has spurred many to develop individual initiatives. Collectively they produced their book as a first step in launching their Philanthropy4Life Initiative as a large scale change initiative.

In the book, philanthropy is explained by its Greek roots, meaning “love of humanity”. It is distinguished from “charity” which “…is about giving to people and causes that have urgent, immediate needs and short-term objectives.  Philanthropy is meant to address root causes and long-term objectives.” Only about 16% of charitable contributions are truly philanthropic in nature.

The authors are pushing for a philanthropy that challenges the very role of money in society where giving is associated with relationships predominantly based in dominance and dependency of those who have and give. They speak freely of the need for philanthropic exchanges being based in love and four Rs: Reciprocity, Respect, Responsibility, and Relationship. Taken seriously, these conditions are a light year away from philanthropy often experienced as a bureaucratic process with evaluation frameworks often out of touch with truly transformational goals. The call by the President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy is cited for:

  • Moving from top-down to aligning and taking action in cooperation with others
  • Aligning missions with investments for returns
  • Transparency and progress indicators
  • Collaboration amongst philanthropies

In addition, the authors urge philanthropists to take seriously large systems change work, exemplified by Mark Kramer’s four practices for large systems change: “take responsibility for assembling the elements of a solution; create a movement for change; include solutions from outside the nonprofit sector; and use actionable knowledge to influence behavior and improve performance.”

The book is divided into four parts. The first explores the basic qualities and impulses that are behind “philanthropy for life”: a sense of cosmological connection, a caring orientation, and support for highest intention and greatest potential. The second part looks at philanthropy historically. Next is a section that looks at some novel philanthropic approaches reflecting ways to imagine Philanthropy for Life, such as: a year-long program called KINS for Philanthropists to support people to develop their personal life mission; a university program with participants being given money to collaboratively give away; “Flow Funding” where a philanthropist gives money to a second party to give away; and “philanthropreneurship” which combines philanthropists’ business acumen as well as financing.

The large systems change strategy to support philanthropy that embraces the whole of life is the focus of the last part of the book. It lays out a 7-phase plan, of which the book is the first. It aims to integrate Philanthropy4Life with Profits4Life (the subject of a 2018 book), which might be likened to B-corporations in the U.S. A core concept is the development of a “new source code for human enterprise”.

The stated vision, mission and values of the Philanthropy4Life Initiative are:

Vision – to transform finance and grow true wealth by breathing new life into the quality, quantity and design of our philanthropy, profit-sharing, and investments by 2025.

Mission – to mobilize one percent of GDP in global giving for whole-system entrepreneurial breakthroughs sparking investment innovations activated by a new SourceCode4Life℠.

Values – to apply the timeless ethics of care, integrating reciprocity, response-ability, respect, and right relationship with all life from within.

This aggressive goal estimates this is equivalent to $770 billion. Philanthropy4Life is focusing on “investment capital in services with the whole of life.” This is the point that things become a little fuzzy for me. Part of the issue is that the authors, like true transformationalists, probably are themselves not yet clear about the “future” in terms of structures and the types of investments that will support the “new source code”. Are they speaking of “investments” in the sense of there being a financial return in line with impact investing? Are they out to support B-corporations? Do they have a broader view of “investment” as being in infrastructures – capacities, relationships, new knowledge development – that are necessary for emerging their new source code but are simply sunk costs with no financial return? There are also many questions arising, about how they will engage the types of organizations of today’s finance system…the book recognizes categorically that change also involves destruction of the old. What are possible pathways? These big questions are ones familiar to those looking at large systems change.

Co-Author, Steve Lovink adds:

The new SourceCode4Life invites our collective human enterprise to embed deeply transformational self-governing principles and values into core decision making that affects peace, security, justice, and sustainable prosperity – our future. Its initial adoption is to be advanced by enabling a whole-system entrepreneurial ecosystem by means of a screened portfolio of breakthrough initiatives that prototypes positive spiraling multidimensional outcomes benefiting entrepreneurs, conscious capital providers, as well as our planet and its peoples, as one.

Since the writing of Imagining Philanthropy for Life – A Whole-System Strategy to Transform Finance and Grow True Wealth, lead authors Stuart Valentine and I have been actively engaged in addressing these big questions in consultation with our co-authors and a growing cadre of strategic allies. There are plans on the drawing board to collaborate with an aligned meshwork of partners to integrate the SourceCode4Life systemic intervention into block chain technology in support of the UNSDGs. The authors can be reached via the Philanthropy4Life Initiative’s website at

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