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Listening and Engaging Locally with Systems Approach

Our aspirations for impact require us to be both courageous and humble in engaging complex systems. A systems approach is both a concept we use to inform our strategies and a practice we use to do our daily work.

Far too many places around the world are rooted in systems of colonialism, racism and misogyny, where only a privileged few can thrive. A systems approach allows us to better understand these complex environments in order to address important and intractable social problems.

The practice involves exploring the relationships of key components of a given system to identify which areas of energy have the potential to yield positive, sustainable impact. In addition to learning from the best of current science and practice, a systems approach includes deep listening to a wide variety of voices, using participatory and appreciative inquiry. Together with our partners, we build a collective understanding of needs, patterns and possibilities that informs both what we do and how we do it. And, as a constant principle, we seek to do no harm while exploring and exposing hidden systemic structures that undermine or enable learning.

At Imaginable Futures, we use our systems approach to build and continually inform our local strategies. This reminds us that we are part of the larger system, not separate from it.

Patterns and Problems First, Tools Second

Our hybrid structure allows us to deploy flexible capital, enabling us to support both for-profit and nonprofit changemakers. How we respond regionally and organizationally may include different forms of engagement to best meet local need and opportunity. Whether it’s collectively filling a gap in a system, sparking and supporting innovation, creating new networks and connections or raising awareness on issues through data and research, we will continue to cultivate tools, techniques and approaches in line with our values.

Collaboration Is Paramount

Foundational to our systems approach are trusted relationships and collaboration. We aspire to understand the ways the system fails learners and what can be done to shift injustices and dismantle barriers so that all learners can thrive. As a funder, we know we need the support and insight of others to ensure a full and diversified perspective. We also know that the patterns we seek to shift will require many varied partnerships and collective leadership.

Learning and Unlearning

Given the ever-changing nature of systems, we know we must continuously listen to update our understanding. This means we must learn, unlearn and adapt together with our partners. In this way, our systems approach is a manifestation of our values, particularly Inclusive Collaborators and Courageous Learners.

What It Means for Where We Work

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Sub-Saharan Africa

We collaborate with partners in Kenya, South Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa to expand diverse pathways to learning. Working inside and outside the formal education system, we focus on the whole learner and their connection to their communities so that young people have the skills, opportunities and support they need to thrive. Given the inequitable outcomes for young girls and women, we also seek to improve access to child care, a primary barrier to learning.

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Brazil

Our work in Brazil focuses on the whole learner, closing learning gaps and expanding the representation of diverse voices in policies, school curricula, research and leadership. We support Brazilian education initiatives and programs that understand learning can happen inside and outside the classroom and are equity-centered because we know that real systemic change for learners requires a fully embedded racial justice and equity lens.

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United States

We believe supporting families holistically is one of the most important and often overlooked areas of opportunity to change the cycle of generational inequity in the United States. We do this through a two-generation approach that supports equitable early learning experiences for our littlest learners and purposeful and prosperous education-to-career pathways for student parents.

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Global

Our global partnerships inspire our work and further our local impact. In addition to our partners in the local geographies in which we work, we invest in and partner with a small portfolio of changemakers with a global footprint. Aligned with our values and vision for impact, these partners provide important learnings that support our local work and can be scaled effectively for larger impact.

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Steps We Take to Invest

Our investment process is both agile, in line with the needs of the changemakers we support, and right-sized to the size of the investment or grant.

  1. 1
    Learning about You

    We are always looking for impactful, values-aligned partners who are working toward a similar vision. When evaluating an opportunity, our first step is to determine if there is both strategic and geographic alignment.

  2. 2
    Building a Trusted Relationship

    Once we determine there is alignment with our strategy, we will engage by learning more about your vision, impact and operations. We will then co-create our partnership.

  3. 3
    Cultivating a Partnership

    As a partner, we aim to support “the whole entrepreneur” and organization by offering financial, strategic and operational support. Where impactful, we bring together our diverse network across private, social and public sectors to collaborate for greater shared learning and impact. And, we look forward to learning from you.