Philanthropic Foundations Canada and Emergent Learning

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

This week I am attending the three-day biennial conference of Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC). We learned of this organization when it republished a blog post that I had written for the Center for Effective Philanthropy on the Foundation’s efforts to communicate with grantees.

Like the Council on Foundations in the United States, PFC is a member association of Canadian grant makers and hosts this “gathering of leaders in the philanthropic sector from Canada and across the world to exchange ideas, learn from each other and discuss important issues facing our communities.

This year’s conference begins with a session entitled “How Funders Can Embrace Emergence” sponsored by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and presented by Fourth Quadrant Partners LLC. Fourth Quadrant Partners (4QP) has offices in Boston, Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. and an impressive list of Foundation clients. Its website says that it helps “mission-critical organizations and social innovators use the principles and tools of Emergent Learning to accelerate, deepen and institutionalize their ability to think about and learn from their work in order to improve their ability to achieve their goals, even in the midst of unpredictable challenges.”

Emergence is a nifty phenomenon, to be sure. Check out this video from YouTube. 4QP bases its “emergent learning” theory on years of research and practice and states that “a community can learn and accomplish far more together than any member could learn and accomplish on their own.” I have no doubt that this is true, but I am less clear on the practical business of making it happen.

4QP’s research and paper entitled A Whole Greater than its Parts: Exploring the Role of Emergence in Complex Social Change, on which this session is based, was funded by the Hewlett, Knight and Packard foundations and includes several case studies. The partners of 4QP will attend to present the session and I hope that what we learn will help with Foundation programing and particularly with our Grant Program Convenings in 2019.

A “whole greater than its parts” brings to mind our community of Tribal College and University partners that we convene every year. This year’s meeting was particularly inspiring, and I hope that 4QPs research will help all of us to use what we learn from each other even more effectively.

The PFC Conference also features plenary sessions on Populism, European Philanthropy, Empowering Women and Girls and Evidence Based Philanthropy, all of which I am looking forward to. I am also looking forward to meeting PFC’s staff and leadership and the leaders and staff of other grant makers. The Foundation makes significant grants in Canada and it will be interesting to meet and compare notes with other funders.