“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
— John Muir
“The rights of human beings and the rights of nature are two names of the same dignity.”
— Eduardo Galeano
You do not need to be a trained expert to understand systems — every family, forest, and even your own body is a complex adaptive system, continually evolving in a non-linear way and responding to its environment through adaptation. This helps us understand that systems exist at all levels, and therefore systems change requires a holistic picture (fractal understanding) of the many levels which need change.
According to renowned systems thinker, Donella Meadows, “a system is a set of things — people, cells, molecules, or whatever — interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.”
Our own bodies, thoughts, biases, traumas, and paradigms are just as important as the regulatory, economic, and structural systems which govern us. And both are shaped by each other. There is no systems transformation without self transformation, and there is no individual and collective freedom without systems transformation. We continually open ourselves to invitations of transformation in relationship with one another.
The ancient Greek word oikos is the root for the English prefix eco (the root for the words ecology and economics) meaning ‘house.’ We cannot separate our economic paradigms and structures from our ecological paradigms and structures, and our inherent dependence on them for survival and flourishing.
Dr. Elisabeth Sawin of Climate Interactive talks about the need for “multi-solving.” We cannot look at problems in isolation, because they are ultimately connected to many interrelated problems. This also brings opportunities to solve many problems simultaneously — like public parks, which reduce anxiety and depression, provide space for exercise, improve public health, and reduce CO2.
At SheEO we are not “changing the system,” we are multi-solving by designing a new system that works for women which ultimately works better for everyone and strengthens and amplifies its mutually reinforcing impact over time. We have redefined success, capital deployment, procurement and mentoring across 5 countries in 5 years and we are just getting started.
SheEO aims to mobilize our economic systems in service of our shared ecological and social challenges, what we call “The World’s To Do List,” (the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) so that we intervene at all levels of systems transformation: our own thoughts and behaviour and paradigms, and the structures, capital flows, and networks which determine which ideas and businesses are elevated in the world.
Reflection question: What system do I want to transform and why? How must I be transformed to act upon that system as an agent of change? How am I spending my time in service of self and collective liberation?
SITE Sustainable Development Goals — United Nations
BOOK Thinking in Systems — Donella Meadows
SITE Systems Thinking Resources — Academy for Systems Change
SITE Santa Fe Institute — complexity science research
SITE Theory U / Presencing Institute — Otto Scharmer
ARTICLE Multi-solving — Dr. Elisabeth Sawin and Climate Interactive
SITE Strozzi Institute — somatic leadership