The Switzer Network goes to France!

Posted by Lissa Widoff on Wednesday, December 28 2011


In late November, I had the great honor and privilege of representing the Switzer Foundation to share our work investing in leadership, networks and innovation with a group of French foundation representatives in Annecy, France. The conference was the annual workshop[ (L’Atelier) of the Centre Francais des Fonds et Fondations (France Center for Foundations and Funds), a national organization with comparable goals to the Council on Foundations the US counterpart that is a service organization for foundations seeking best management and grantmaking practices, as well as promoting the role of philanthropy in policy and practice throughout the country.  Philanthropy is organized quite differently in France - of course the state plays a much larger role supporting social aims with funding and policy direction and a maze of regulations govern the establishment of new foundations, many of which can raise funds as well as give grants.  Despite these differences, the group was eager to understand how to leverage networks of grantee and stakeholder organizations and how philanthropic investments can spark policy innovation and lend credibility to the grantmaking organization itself. This “virtuous circle” of positive investments with increasing public awareness which can lead to dissemination of the best ideas and spark further innovation as networks of individuals and organizations learn from each other. This notion was quite well-received in France as Europe faces new austerity measures in relation to many social services long provided by the state.  I shared our experience and was joined by Donzelina Barrosa from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors who spoke about a variety of funder collaboratives  and from a representative of the corporate foundation of DeLoitte LeTouche, who shared information about the benefits of viewing philanthropy as an investor in social capital for building stronger communities throughout France.  While the international speaking engagement was an exciting opportunity, more important to me was the chance to focus on assembling our “story” about the Switzer Network – what we have tried and learned over the last 25 years, and also how we might apply emerging frameworks and new experiments in philanthropy to leverage networks for social change.  For readers, I am sharing the handout of slides from my talk – which is now a work in progress, and an updated list of relevant articles describing other case studies and frameworks which can also apply to our own effort to tap the deep potential of leadership and innovation within the Switzer Network. I invite any and all to share feedback, and will continue to expand on the story and your role in it.

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