Strategic Alliance of Philanthropic Foundations

Lead Organization:

Meridian Institute

Partner Organizations:

Global Alliance for the Future of Food, AgroEcology Fund, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Transformational Investing in Food Systems (TIFS), True Cost Accounting Accelerator (TCAA), Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative, Agroecology Europe, Agroecology Research-Action Collective, AS-PTA, Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development, Biovision, Caribbean Agroecology Institute, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), CGIAR, CIFOR-ICRAF, CIRAD, Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance, Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios, Cultivate!, EAT, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, ENDA Pronat, EnviroStrat, Funders for Regenerative Agriculture, FUMA Gaskiya, Grupo Yanapai, Groundswell International, Imaan Research, Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, INRAE, Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, IPES-Food, IRD, IRPAD, IRSAT, L’Institut Agro Montpellier, Louvain Cooperation, MAELA, National Family Farm Coalition, P’KWI Farmer-to-Farmer Cooperative, SOCLA, Stats4SD, Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania, UN FAO, University of Brasilia, Colorado State University, Cornell University, Coventry Univeresity, Free University of Brussels, Mayan Intercultural University of Quintana Roo, University of Jaffna, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines, University of Vermont, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Yale University




Profound changes in the way food is grown, processed, distributed, consumed, and wasted have, over the past several decades, led to increasing threats to a future where food is sustainable, equitable, and secure, particularly when coupled with climate change and shifting global economics, politics, and demographics.

The future of food is at stake and the status quo is jeopardizing the efforts of many foundations, governments, businesses, farmers, and others to promote food access, food security, food equity, human health, and a sustainable environment.

Transformational change is needed. Food systems reform requires new and better solutions crafted at all scales through a systems-level approach and deep collaboration between philanthropy, researchers, grassroots movements, private sector, large-scale and smallholder farmers, migrant workers, workers in the plantation sector and informal markets, industrial agriculture workers, Indigenous Peoples, government, and policymakers.

This alliance of mostly private foundations has the privilege, responsibility, and opportunity to leverage resources and networks to get sustainable food systems on the political, economic, and social agenda. By applying systems-thinking to understand the interrelated economic, ecological, and social drivers of today’s food systems, foundations can fully understand systems dynamics, anticipate systems behaviors and interactions, and ultimately identify opportunities for transformation. It helps to understand systemic realities and constraints, and assess systemic risks, opportunities, and trade-offs, along with pathways to accelerate food systems transformation.

This systems approach has been a distinctive feature of the team’s engagement in food systems transformation the last 10 years, having developed research and tools based on a systems-thinking perspective built on diverse knowledge and evidence with open-source publications and tools; also, having  published articles on how Global Alliance incorporates systems thinking, complexity understanding, and Principles-Focused Evaluation into its work.

The report “Politics of Knowledge: Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways” is a good example of collaborative, systemic approach to co-creating knowledge and mobilizing evidence. To advance its identified priorities, we are working to develop a transformative research and action agenda and network. Knowledge gaps and action opportunities were identified by key partners, including CCRP partners from Africa, Latin America, and the leadership group.

Grant Aims:

The first goal is to support core capacity for a strategic alliance of philanthropic foundations.

Specifically, the project seeks to:

  1. Continue to develop Global Alliance equity lens through member-led Equity Circle process, ensuring equity work is centered in both public- and private-facing planning.
  2. Continue to embed Global Alliance’s well-established M+E reflective practice and adopt Principles-Focused Evaluation throughout strategic plan activities, learning and adapting with members and contributing partners.
  3. Continue effective, public-facing communications, ensuring Global Alliance’s positive, principled systems thinking articulates possibility and urgency of equitable transformation.
  4. Continue to explore innovative methods of work, such as incubation of like-minded initiatives: True Cost Accelerator (TCAA) and Transformative Investment in Food Systems (TIFS).
  5. Better understand priorities of networks and movements that member foundations support, are identifying regions of common interest, relevance across scales, main issues, and potential collaborations.
  6. Support meaningful participation of underrepresented and/or historically marginalized actors in relevant fora. Build core capacity to provide support in meaningful and respectful ways.

The second goal is to advance Global Alliance’s seven Calls to Action by increasing research in systems-based approaches that emphasize indivisible ecological, health, social, and economic goals. As part of this work trajectory, Global Alliance and Fondation Agropolis hosted a convening in late 2022 to plan the strategic direction for a global network. Action themes emerging from the compendium and participant outreach included:

  • Developing knowledge sharing and mobilization strategies
  • Exploring deep research questions
  • Creating enabling environments
  • Advancing transdisciplinary, participatory action research, and training
  • Addressing power, policy, and governance
  • Catalyzing financial flows
  • Building capacity, networks, and alliances

Specifically, the objectives of the 2022 convening were to:

  1. Explore current blockages, lock-ins, and critical underlying structures that prevent shifts from current dominant paradigm, particularly in current context of crisis response.
  2. Identify pathways to advance research for the public good that emphasize indivisible ecological, health, social, and economic goals.
  3. Initiate development of network of funders, researchers, scientists, and farmer and civil society organizations.
  4. Identify elements of strategic framework outlining opportunities for knowledge generation and translation, and communication of diverse data, evidence, and perspectives targeting scientific community, decision makers, and funders.

McKnight’s support allows for:

  1. Facilitation of CoP focused on linking and strengthening transformational research and action agendas
  2. Elevation and amplification of CCRP research results in global fora and with growing community of actors interested in transformative research and action; leveraged CCRP partner network to advise on, shape, and provide leadership for work
  3. Support of working groups to shift narratives and funding flows by mobilizing knowledge and evidence through education, dissemination, and communications
  4. CoP or research network convened on annual basis

Outputs and Outcomes:


  • Core capacity supported for strategic alliance of philanthropic foundations
  • Clear pathways of action in the four priority areas that support members, collaborators, and stakeholders via implementation plan mapping out activities and enabling transparent reporting to members
  • Deeper, more transformative impact in system change work through ongoing work of Equity Circle
  • Socialized urgency of equity-seeking work through activities focused on building capacity of coordinating secretariat team through coaching and training support, and support of equity consultants
  • M+E program intricately involved in implementation and monitoring of strategic and implementation plans
  • Continued adherence to legacy of reflective practice; Global Alliance learning and adapting throughout integration of equity-seeking work into strategic planning implementation process


  • Global Alliance member networks, grantees, and partners mobilized and energized to connect across local, regional, national, and international scales
  • Diverse and broad perspectives across stakeholder groups in discussions relevant to CTAs sought out and supported
  • Spaces to consult with partners and networks of thought leaders—particularly those for underrepresented and/or historically marginalized voices—fostered to further align Global Alliance with principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • M+E program continuing to evolve, integrating equity-based values and practices
  • Global Alliance members and coordinating secretariat working toward common language and socialization in matters of equity, race, and power to inform discussions and decision making
  • Global Alliance’s recognized leadership open to and informed by actors, movements, and teachings, and by diverse knowledge challenging leadership to recognize system change from equity and power analysis perspective


  • Diverse evidence mobilized to expand understanding of critical food systems issues, debates, and main actors
  • Broadened and deepened relationships with and between influential actors within and outside food systems community
  • Key messages aligned with principles and Calls to Action promoted by influential actors in key global fora
  • Partnerships with underrepresented groups expanded and deepened to reflect more inclusive, participatory, and transparent food systems governance
  • Donors and other finance actors coordinated to increase resources for food systems transformation, improving impact of financial flows in alignment with principles and Calls to Action