The polycrisis seemed like an abstraction when we initiated the OMEGA Resilience Funders Network three years ago. Then COVID became the poster child for the polycrisis with its global impact on politics, economies, wealth distribution, and virtually every other sector.
The polycrisis is now widely recognized. President Biden invoked the polycrisis as “cascading crises” in his inaugural address. In April, the US National Intelligence Council invoked “cascading crises” as the great challenge in its quadrennial projection.
In brief, the polycrisis has gone from near invisibility three years ago to the highest levels of US government.
The philanthropic and NGO sectors have a vital role to play in developing maps, strategies, and preferred outcomes for the polycrisis. Not only is the OMEGA Resilience Funders Network growing, but also our colleague funder interest groups are addressing the polycrisis on their own.
Last week, the Biodiversity Funders Group’s (BFG) annual meeting opened with an international panel of funders in conversation on the polycrisis. It was a remarkable conversation as biodiversity, environmental and justice funders explored together how best to respond to the intersectoral challenges they and their grantees face. Best of all, BFG mounted this excellent session with no input or prompting from the Resilience Funders Network. Judy Hatcher and her colleagues did it because the polycrisis can no longer be avoided and they thought it was the right thing to do.
As with all new areas of philanthropic focus, there are many competing memes for how to describe the polycrisis.
There are old terms like Limits to Growth, the Global Problematique, and the Human Predicament. There are newer terms like the Great Turning, the Great Unravelling, planetary boundaries, and (on the web) TEOTWAWKI — “the end of the world as we know it.” More recently we have begun to see “rapidly changing world” as a neutral description. “Intersectoral” is another commonly used term to describe the issues. There are many more.
What matters is that a growing number of funders and their grantees are recognizing that several dozen global stressors — social, environmental, technological and financial/economic — are interacting with complete unpredictability and growing force. These increasingly common “future shocks” have the power to disrupt almost every funder strategy. A few thoughtful funders are beginning to test their strategies around recognition of this new reality.
Does this mean funders should all begin to fund polycrisis work directly? Not at all. But it does mean that funding in focal areas may be most effective if strategies are tested against the reality that conditions can turn on a dime. Funding can either be “polycrisis focused” or “polycrisis aware.” We need both kinds of engagement.
The session that Judy Hatcher and the Biodiversity Funders Group held was a landmark in our view since the BFG leadership and program committee took it upon themselves to make the polycrisis homegrown turf for their work.
Thanks, Judy and BFG. For showing the way.