Launching a new program for system entrepreneurs who are ‘halfway through’

We are excited to announce the launch of our new peer-to-peer learning program, The Systems Sanctuary, for systems entrepreneurs who are head down, sleeves rolled up and have been working on their systems change project for at least two years.

We’ve chosen this group because we see a gaping hole in support for people who are really in the thick of it.

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The Systems Entrepreneur: What’s in a name?

The Systems Entrepreneur: What’s in a name?

‘Systems leader’, ‘systemsprenuer’, or ‘systems entrepreneur’. Pick your favorite. Regardless of which one you go for, the concept is emerging with SSIR, HBR and MIT all using it, along with a cluster of philanthropic foundations and consultancies.

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The Challenge of Systems Leadership

The Challenge of Systems Leadership
At no time in history have we needed… system leaders more.”
— Peter Senge et al in their seminal 2015 SSIR article The Dawn of Systems Leadership

But, being a systems leader is hard work. It’s slow, painstaking, with many dead ends, limited fans and just when you think ‘why am I doing this again?’, a smattering of inspiring, life affirming moments that keep you committed to the cause.

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Interview: Systems change network builders

Interview: Systems change network builders

Some things I’ve learnt:

  • The people who live and breathe in the system are those who have to come up with the solutions to change it. Inputs from external experts are useful but they have to make sense to the people in the system.
  • The system, not the poor, must be the unit of intervention if we want sustainable impact at scale.
  • You have to listen to the system. Truly listen; without confirmation biases, without ego, without expectations, without intention, listen quietly and openly.
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Mutiny at your workshop 

Mutiny at your workshop 

Everyone who’s convened has been there.

Sometimes it looks like a huddle of people talking at lunchtime, avoiding your eye contact. It can be a friendly chat at dinner, “you should really do x”. Or a more direct hand up in plenary, "we've been talking and we just don't think we're focusing on the right thing." 

Psychologists talk about ‘emotional contagion’. This is where one person's emotions and behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people. Emotional contagion means that if you don't nip it in the bud, you can have a full blown mutiny on your hands. 

In my experience, there are some important moves you can make to prevent it happening in the first place. Here they are: 

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"I am still here" - Letters from Serbia

"I am still here" - Letters from Serbia

am 25-year old Serbian. I was born in 1992, in the midst of Yugoslavia’s breakup and wars. My first year of elementary was marked by the NATO bombing, and the second year by the so-called “colored (or bulldozer) revolution”, when the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic was taken down, and the new “democratic” era started.

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Interview: Systems change network builders

Interview: Systems change network builders

Some things I’ve learnt:

  • The people who live and breathe in the system are those who have to come up with the solutions to change it. Inputs from external experts are useful but they have to make sense to the people in the system.
  • The system, not the poor, must be the unit of intervention if we want sustainable impact at scale.
  • You have to listen to the system. Truly listen; without confirmation biases, without ego, without expectations, without intention, listen quietly and openly.
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Common challenges in systems change

Common challenges in systems change

Power dynamics are always at play in systems change work. How do you build enough credibility to convene the best actors in a system? How do you get finance for your work when the people with the money often have a vested interest in things staying the same? How do you accept money from the power brokers of a system and keep questioning its foundations? If you are a funder, how do you get close enough to the actors in a system, to be able to make a fair assessment of the project? 

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The art of presence

The art of presence

I started to see my life as the water. Ever changing. Sometimes riding high and full of waves and sometimes low and ebbing. What is constant is the change. To think that I can dictate the waves of my life would be like believing that we dictate the flow of the oceans. It's beyond my comprehension. But what I do have control over is how well I adapt to that change. My ability to catch a wave and ride it. To work with it until it brings me to a new place.

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How to: Changing hearts and minds for systems change

How to: Changing hearts and minds for systems change

“Speak the truth. Speak it loud and often, calmly but insistently, and speak it… to power.” Said Donella Meadows.

When we know a system is oppressing people, or destroying our natural world, how to we inspire enough people to transform it with an urgency that reflects how we feel?

What’s needed is a ‘Paradigm shift’ “a time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely”.

In Geels’ (2002) Transition Theory model, this kind of change happens at the ‘Landscape level’:

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“The joy is in the journey”. Really?

“The joy is in the journey”. Really?

When you think of evolving institutions, professions and organizations, joy isn’t necessarily the first word that springs to mind. Change is hard. It feels heavy, political, exhausting and serious. 

But at The Systems Studio joy is front and center of what we do. It is our reason for being.

And here’s why- joy is a brilliant strategy for systems change.

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The field of systems change is growing

The field of systems change is growing

"If no one shows up, I'm looking forward to listening to you guys anyway" we said to each other. 

The 'we' was Lorin Fries, Head of Food Systems Collaboration at the World Economic Forum and Ava Lala from Geneva Global and I. We had been invited by Jeff Glenn to speak on a panel at the Harvard Social Enterprise conference on the topic of 'systems entrepreneurship'. 

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How to write down practice

How to write down practice

You've had a go at a change initiative. You experimented your way forward and it feels like things have shifted as a result of your intervention. You've inspired people around you, you have a collection of life affirming memories that keep you pushing through the hard bits and now people want you to share what you've done.

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Systems change: What makes it different from the rest of the buzz words? 

Systems change: What makes it different from the rest of the buzz words? 

Systems Change is about seeing a problem from multiple perspectives. Systems change initiatives typically work on many failures within the system at once. They are defined by their focus on the root cause of an issue, rather than solving the symptoms of a problem. They typically employ a combination of many interventions at once because one strategy will rarely solve a complex challenge. 

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Changing Incumbent Systems: A Personal Story

Changing Incumbent Systems: A Personal Story

I grew up in England with a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ kind of culture. This, paired with an invisible class system that put me in place every time I left the house, was nothing short of infuriating as a curious and gregarious child. I am the daughter of a Boarding School/Cambridge educated father and a working class mum, so I was always a bit confused. I spent each year at my local comprehensive with classmates who grew up to be hairdressers and electricians, and summers sailing with friends who went to some of the most expensive public schools in the UK.                   

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