An acupuncturist in the funding ecosystem

Louise Armstrong
4 min readJan 11, 2023

Reflections and shifts in my role within the funding ecosystem

After 10+ years of change making work — a recurring theme about where and how resources flow has persisted for me. I felt compelled to do this work as I really believe that the resources need to flow to the places they currently are. And I feel lucky to have been entrusted by people and organisations in this space to support them in their explorations.

Supporting and enabling roles

Much of the work in my first 18 months of freelancing has been working within and around the funding ecosystem. Specifically the philanthropic space — with family and private foundations predominantly — working with people and organisations in a variety of different ways — from designing and facilitating learning spaces via the Investors in Change program hosted by the School of Systems Change, coaching individuals and grantee pools, facilitation and strategy support for funder collaborations like Farming the Future and LocalMotion, supporting review and evaluation work with Nexus Evaluation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Backbone Fund and development of learning and practice partnership support.

On the one hand, this looks like a disparate portfolio of work — but while attending the JRF New Frontiers event, a strong metaphor came to mind that helps describe the role I’ve been playing — like being an acupuncturist. Standing in different parts of the system, trying out different interventions and noticing where pressure is relieved, noticing where things flow differently once pressure and attention is applied. One of the benefits of freelancing is being able to pollinate learning, spot patterns across multiple parts of the system and get a sense of some of the emerging themes and edges.

I’ve written a piece that curates some of the themes and insights I’ve observed from across the work I’ve been doing:

1.Funder led collaborations: Catalysts and momentum makers
2.Nature of change: working with the lifecycle of change
3.Role of funders: Funders as multi identity change makers
4.Shifting power: Transforming Governance
5.Posture: Capacious and courageous leadership
6.Strategic approach: Inquiry as strategy
7. Philanthropy as the tip of the iceberg: expanding our understanding of who and how to invest in change

Each insight points to where further attention and more strategies for change are needed. You can read more about these here.

These insights have also informed where i’m choosing to position myself and my energies next.

What’s next?

I came into this ecosystem with a strong belief that more peer learning spaces were needed and a key leverage point for change. Learning spaces as being necessary for healthy cultures and practice to grow from, and a sense that I could make a contribution to creating some of these spaces. While I still deeply believe this — perhaps ironically — the financial model for making these spaces work feels challenging. There isn’t always a culture or the time for people to value and make space for this at the depth that I believe is needed.

I’ve also seen that peer pressure between the funder ecosystem is powerful. That the platform and influence that can be had from working within a funding organisation is unparalleled. Thats why, for the next phase of my own explorations into how I can best contribute to a shift in funding practice, I’ve decided to take on a role within a funding organisation, Thirty Percy as their Director of Collaborations.

It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly — I’ve valued the freedom and flexibility of freelance life — and there is some organisational residue and trauma for me to work through to do this. But there is a strong alignment to the work and intentions of Thirty Percy — that means I am willing to make a commitment for a time bound period until Autumn 2024.

As part of this next phase I’ll be trying on the funder identity and living the role and responsibility that comes with that. I want to understand from within the reality of the dynamics in these organisations. To push the edges of what is possible and model what a progressive foundation can do and look like. Design and prototype new ways of investing in supportive ecosystems for change makers. Exploring what it means to be a funder changemaker, and a funder facilitator can be. I’ll be working part time there (we’ve designed a flexible/seasonal contract) and I will continue the pollination role I love to do — straddling being part of the enabling ecosystem of changemakers and the funding ecosystem. The intention is to write and share more about the lessons and themes as part of that — so watch this space.



Louise Armstrong

#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change