The past four months in the LEAP universe have been intense. Following a series of group and individual consultation calls from October to December, we had to step into a lower gear at the end of 2020.
We realised that we had fallen into the trap of wanting too much too fast and not making enough time for the essential things: bridging differences and finding ourselves as a team and reflecting upon all the amazing and critical input that we received — So we stopped ploughing ahead and have spent the first four months of the new year on reflection, follow-ups with some of the most critical voices and extensive internal deliberations about our motivations and goals with this work. Rainer Höll, one of the founding members of the facilitation group, left the group at the end of March. We hope to continue reflecting and working more with Rainer in the future.
Below is an update about how the idea of what LEAP is has changed in the past months and which aspects we have kept. I will also share a couple of lessons learned and where we are going next.
What we’re keeping
We still believe that there is value in creating a community of people from social movements organising for justice as well as social entrepreneurs creating concrete models, experiments and prototypes for systems change. To get unstuck from old patterns of thinking and doing, we will need both: on the one hand, campaigns and protests, on the other hand, real-life examples of what is possible.
We also still feel that most existing philanthropic institutions do not focus on systemic change, and that their practices, especially in strategy and decision-making, reinforce injustice and oppression. Philanthropy should be of service to and in community with those who are on the front lines of injustice, working to end oppression and create new models and systems. Creating such an inclusive community of practice, consisting of activists and systems entrepreneurs, as well as donors (both individuals and foundation representatives), has been and still is our commitment. Similarly; participation, learning and transparency remain our guiding principles for all community activities.
How our plans changed
We were made aware that another participatory grantmaker was maybe not what is needed at this time. We nearly fell into the trap of wanting to quickly create a shiny new organisation that would then entrench policies and structures without fully considering the many perspectives of the growing and changing community of philanthropy pioneers and participatory grantmaking experiments that inspired us to embark on this journey in the first place.
We now envision LEAP as a process or container for learning from philanthropic experimentation. Our community of practice would hold this space and assure that we stay true to LEAP’s goal of supporting activities that contribute to ending systems of injustice and oppression and working on building systemic alternatives. Individuals and institutions who have accrued wealth from the labour, land and resources of others would fund these systems change initiatives and the LEAP platform itself could provide financial support and legal hosting to new initiatives.
We are convinced that a better way of doing things will not emerge in silos but from collective action and experimentation of funders and those doing the work. This will take time. But this time will be needed to build trust for brave conversations and experiments to take place. In short, LEAP hopes to enable collective self-reflection and action via courageous philanthropic experiments, held and governed by a community of practice.
Many details and how-tos to this vision are still unclear. (This is also why we are looking for more people in the facilitation group, see below.)
We would be happy for LEAP to become a host for dozens of experiments – and if some of them fail, it means we can learn. We would be happy for LEAP to become a positive influence for many funding organizations to further enlarge the support ecosystem needed for systems change work. We would also be happy for LEAP to dissolve at some point if it is not needed any more.
What we learned
We are, every day, reproducing the systems we’re trying to dismantle.
For example when we create a false sense of urgency (‘We need to stick to the calls we had planned!’) or react defensively to critique instead of letting it sink in. Tatiana introduced a resource that goes into much more detail on these mechanisms and will surely accompany us as we go ahead.
Bringing together different sectors starts with us.
There are real differences in perspectives, language and use of concepts among those of us with a more social entrepreneurial background versus those of us with a more activist background.
You don’t want to know how many total hours we spent agonizing over whether ‘social justice’, ‘systems change’, or ‘reparations’ were loaded terms, understandable only to a select few and meaning different things to different people, or whether they are necessary bedrocks of what we want to achieve.
As David Bolier and Silke Helfrich argue in their chapter on ‘Language and the creation of commons‘: “Somehow we had to escape the powerful gravitational pull of old paradigm language and come up with words that name a different order of social reality! Relationships and ways of being and doing that are barely visible in the general culture have to be made explicit through language we might need to collectively come to.” (Shoutout to Stacco from Guerrilla Translation for sharing this at the right moment).
We needed to allow space for the tensions that arose from these differences to be expressed and discussed openly and carefully. This is and will be an ongoing process for which we need to make time and that requires a certain skill set. Which brings me to the next point:
If we really want to bring together not only social justice activists and systems entrepreneurs but also build a learning collective that involves donors and individuals with wealth, we need to become facilitators and holders of spaces where multiple perspectives and differences of power are out in the open. If you think you have one or two things to say about this or know others who do, please get in touch! We want to collaborate with you!
Where we’re going
Most importantly, with our first set-up funding secured, we are now able to expand the facilitation group to include more people with relevant experiences – read more here about the process and who we’re looking for.
From there, starting in May, we’ll figure out our legal setup (small details ;)) and grow the wider LEAP community that will not only hold us accountable but also collectively develop the first experiments to be hosted here. Let us know if you’re interested in joining.