our history

An evolution to systems change and collaborative networks

SIE is the signature initiative of the Growth Philanthropy Network (GPN). It was created in 2009 by GPN in partnership with Duke University, with funding from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It started as a national association creating a marketplace that would efficiently deliver capital to the most effective nonprofits, allowing them to scale and spread their impact in cities and states across the country.

We worked with networks of funders to identify, vet, and fund nonprofit solutions, that were both “scale worthy” (i.e., had evidence of positive impact) and “scale ready” (i.e., had robust plans for charting a course for sustainable growth). Ultimately, we sought to create a capital marketplace for scaling evidence-based nonprofits. In 2015 as we saw the limits of scaling individual interventions, our focus changed significantly, and is now squarely aimed at systems change.

Changing Our Strategy

While we had success in driving capital to scaling nonprofits, we did not achieve population-level outcomes, and our toughest problems persisted relatively unabated. Through evaluations of our work, we developed a growing understanding that every nonprofit intervention exists within a complex system of policies, politics, finance, public opinion, peer networks, etc. that collectively govern outcomes.

It became clear that

  1. No single nonprofit or intervention — no matter how effective—can achieve equitable population-level impact on complex adaptive problems.
  2. Philanthropy alone cannot drive transformative change; it requires broader, more diverse cross-sector networks working in concert.
  3. It is critical to understand the systems barriers that prevent large-scale change from occurring.

These and other lessons learned led to a major pivot in our strategy.

We no longer focus on individual programs or practices. Instead, we support and help organize multi-sector networks to analyze systems such as K-12 education and health to identify and implement high-leverage intervention that can transform the entire system.