Our Approach

Addressing Root Causes and Immediate Needs

Meaningful change is systemic. Lasting solutions require long-term commitments to address the root causes of historical problems, transforming culture in the process.

This work takes time. However, urgent needs cannot wait. For these reasons, Wagner Foundation seeks to balance immediate action with long-term goals whenever possible. This broader view means we do not look at challenges or solutions in isolation but as part of a process that brings systemic change.


Components of Systems Change

When considering how to advance systemic change in society, we are guided by the “inverted triangle” framework, which defines systems change as “shifting the conditions that hold the problems in place.”

Lasting systemic change requires understanding interdependent conditions on multiple levels, ranging from mental models to policies, practices and resource flows. It is necessary to consider each component individually, and as part of a greater whole.



Informed by the research done by
John Kania, Mark Kramer & Peter Senge in their article
The Water of Systems Change, May 2018.

THE 6 CONDITIONS OF SYSTEMS CHANGE —DEFINITIONSPolicies: Government, institutional and organizational rules, regulations, and priorities that guide the entity's own and others' actions.Practices: Espoused activities of institutions, coalitions, networks, and other entities targeted to improving social and environmental progress. Also, within the entity, the procedures, guidelines, or informal shared habits that comprise their work.Resource Flows: How money, people, knowledge, information, and other assets such as infrastructure are allocated and distributed.Relationships & Connections: Quality of connections and communication occurring among actors in the system, especially among those with differing histories and viewpoints.Power Dynamics: The distribution of decision-making power, authority, and both formal and informal influence among individuals and organizations.Mental Models: Habits of thought—deeply held beliefs and assumptions and taken-for-granted ways of operating that influence how we think, what we do, and how we talk.

Working on and Within Systems
How We Approach Systems Change

Wagner Foundation makes investments in organizations working at the systems level, whether they address many of the components of systems change or focus on a specific challenge within a system. We summarize this as “working on and within systems.” How we engage with a system is guided by our grantee partners, as we seek opportunities to align efforts across our partners and focus areas. We originally came to understand these two approaches to systems change through our health equity work and have highlighted this example below.

Many Components of Systems Change:
Health Equity

Wagner Foundation has been a longtime supporter of Partners In Health (PIH), which addresses global health inequities by accompanying local governments and investing in local health systems. PIH’s holistic approach consists of the “5 S’s”: staff, stuff, space, systems, and social support. Strengthening a health system requires planning on the structural level while engaging many discrete challenges specific to individual communities.

Through this relationship, the Foundation has become more aware of the needs both within the health system, but also of other social drivers that impact a community’s wellbeing. As a leader in this work, PIH has inspired a new generation of organizations working towards health systems strengthening in other geographies that come together for knowledge sharing, advocacy efforts and beyond.

Specific challenge within the system:
Gender & Health Equity

The inadequacy of existing global health systems was made explicit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, who make up 70% of the global health workforce, are under-invested in and undervalued, representing only 25% of global health leadership. Wagner Foundation partnered with Women in Global Health (WGH) to support efforts confronting the multiple conditions of systems change affecting gender equity within health systems. In September 2020, together with WGH, the Foundation co-hosted a summit with Foreign Policy during the UN General Assembly. The summit stressed that the failure to address the circumstances of an overwhelming majority of health workers undermined global health security and the advancement of global health equity. As a result of the summit, over 40 + global institutions and governments made commitments and pledges to further gender parity in global health security during the pandemic and for the future.

Focus Areas

Working at The Intersection

Wagner Foundation focuses on supporting partners at the intersection of Health Equity and Economic Prosperity, particularly as work pertains to historically disenfranchised or geographically isolated communities. Our selection of these focus areas reflects our vision of a just and robust community and an understanding and consideration of additional social drivers that impact overall wellbeing.

We recognize that the advancement of our vision is linked to Cultural Transformation, which may incorporate funding artists and arts organizations, advocacy, and knowledge sharing & communications


Our selection of these focus areas reflects our vision of a just and robust community and an understanding and consideration of additional social drivers that impact overall wellbeing.