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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funder Group (SAFS)

By Esther Abram The beginning of 2015 has been a busy, behind the scenes time for the SAFS funder group, with a new publication just released and planning underway for an innovative collective impact process. Supporting a Fair and Sustainable Food System Since last year there has been a strong focus on food systems by the SAFS funder group. Taking a food systems approach means recognising that there is a complete system behind the food which ends up on people’s plates and how the elements of this system – farming, distribution, transport etc – function in ways which dictate how sustainable the end product is. In recent years there has been strong growth in the number and diversity of groups working on improving elements of the food system. This provides great opportunities for grantmakers, but it has also proven to be a challenge to understand how the food systems movement works and what strategic goals will be achieved through their activities. To address this challenge, the AEGN and Morris Family Foundation have produced a new food systems publication – A Fair and Sustainable Food System. We hope it makes nutritious ‘food for thought’ in terms of your grantmaking approach! Food system collective impact initiative The AEGN and Morris Family Foundation are working in partnership to design and implement a collective impact process for the food system. The process will result in a plan which will guide the food system movement’s priorities and philanthropic grantmaking and investment. This is a really exciting opportunity for members to participate in an innovative initiative which can achieve great outcomes in terms of food system sustainability and help us to learn about new ways of collaborating. Collaboration between grantmakers is strongly encouraged by the AEGN and there are many examples of members working together. It is less common however for our members to be involved in collaborations right from the start, where you are part of the process which determines ‘the plan’ which sits behind the projects that get funded. Instead, the norm is for individual grantmakers to receive isolated proposals. This system is neither conducive to funder collaboration, nor does it provide assurance that the proposal on the table is the best thing to fund in the circumstances. Collective impact is a new approach that brings together a range of players involved in a common issue to work together in a long term, impact focused way. The collective impact approach differs from more general collaboration by embedding a number of important principles, including a shared plan, goals and measurement approach. At the moment, there are fantastic initiatives underway in the food systems area, driven by passionate and enthusiastic people and grassroots organisations. Unlike some other environmental grantmaking areas, there is a strong and growing role for social enterprises and many people play activist and entrepreneurial roles simultaneously. The food systems movement would benefit greatly from more and more strategic grantmaking, but without a plan guiding this it has proven to be very difficult to achieve. Looking at inspiring examples from overseas, the most successful models have had grantmakers playing a very strong role in developing of plans for food systems work. Often there is a single funder playing a key role in resourcing both the plan and the activities arising from the plan. In Australia we currently don’t have a single funder willing to play this role, but we do have the Morris Family Foundation committed to supporting the development of the plan. We also have other members who are keen to be more involved in funding and who are really keen to see what emerges from this process.