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Climate and Health|February 03, 2020

What is an Action Tank? Reflections on Panorama’s Third Anniversary

Gabrielle Fitzgerald, Founder and CEO of Panorama


Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey, The New York Times journalists who broke the story about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual harassment and abuse. Their determination and work to tell such a painful story – and the reckoning that followed – is an amazing example of the great power committed individuals have to change the world.

Yet those individuals always need a broader community to enable change. In the case of the Harvey Weinstein story, it took the bravery of the women who experienced assault to tell their stories, plus the commitment of the editors of the Times, that enabled them to get the story published.

This power to make change was the bedrock principle on which I founded Panorama and why I called it an action tank: We exist to partner with people to drive social change. Sometimes our role is to do this publicly, but most of the time we are behind the scenes. We partner with a wide range of individuals and organizations who share a desire to make change happen. And while our team members have deep expertise in a range of topics, Panorama’s work is issue agnostic and based on the belief that what we bring to the table is our knowledge of how to make change happen.

Today, as we celebrate our third anniversary, we’ve launched a new website that better reflects the role that Panorama plays in making change. It’s organized around three principles that guide our work: We accelerate, we catalyze, and we enable.

We accelerate by working in partnership with organizations to drive forward their agendas for social change. These can be philanthropies, non-profits, companies, or multilateral organizations. We work with our partners to co-develop strategies to address challenging problems. We use a range of tactics to get to a solution, including communications, stakeholder engagement, resource mobilization, and organization design and development.

We catalyze by bringing together donors and those engaged in on-the-ground work through our collaborative funds. Last month we announced The Ascend Fund, which aggregates capital and makes grants to a portfolio of organizations working toward gender equity in U.S. politics. We were pleased to provide funding that advances the impressive work of New American Leaders and Vote Run Lead, and we look forward to announcing our next round of grant recipients later this month.

We enable by working with organizations to develop scalable solutions by providing support to allow others to execute their ideas. We fiscally sponsor organizations, execute grants and contracts, and provide secretariat support for initiatives, all of which allow them to focus on their programmatic work. We’re so pleased to be a small part of the incredible work that is increasing access to primary healthcare in low-income settings, advancing women’s human rights, and ending cervical cancer.

When we create resources that might be valuable to others, we share them. To that end, we’ve published a full suite of materials that gives employers and employees the tools they need to create, or request, a paid family medical leave program. We’ve also produced reports for philanthropists to guide their grant making strategies on climate and health, gender equity in elected office, and Coronavirus, and we assessed the keys to success on making donor collaboratives work.

Over the past three years, the Panorama team has grown to 20 problem solvers: Strategists, thinkers, and doers who came to us from government, foundations, research institutes, and private companies.

We try to live by the values we apply in our work by organizing the first Seattle meeting of Women in Global Health, serving lunch at the women’s shelter near our office, and encouraging team members to take advantage of leadership opportunities through the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, Leadership Tomorrow, and the World Affairs Council. We offer three months of paid family and medical leave. We’ve been able to give people the time they need to care for themselves and their families, and have been thrilled to welcome three members of Panorama’s next generation to the world, and look forward to meeting the fourth later this year.

So, as I reflect back on the past three years: Has the action tank concept worked? Yes. But is there more to do? Absolutely.

The number of women in elected office in the U.S. has remained stagnant, at about 23%. Only eight states mandate paid family leave. And there has been a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment, bringing a resurgence of diseases – like measles – that were once on the brink of elimination.

But I remain incredibly optimistic. Over the course of my career, I’ve been so fortunate to be part of numerous initiatives where we’ve seen great progress: Billions of dollars have been raised to improve health around the world. HIV/AIDS has evolved from a death sentence to a treatable disease. And childhood deaths have decreased by half.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else this action tank can do to continue to make social change happen. Together, we can create the world we want to live in.

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