Jean-Pierre Greenlund

A Beginner’s Guide to Systems Change

How do we create change that lasts? How can we find the root causes of the problems we see around us? 

Most people agree that we have a responsibility to change our world for the better. But too often we overlook the difference between changing a situation and transforming a system. 

That difference is a bit like the difference between saving a tree and creating a new, sustainable way of doing forestry — one that transforms communities and livelihoods in the process. 

We get it — changing systems sounds intimidating. That’s why we’re excited to share an animated series, brought to you by Ashoka and Red Bull, to tell one story of “systems change” and help you find yours. For an in-depth toolkit featuring short films, worksheets, and more, check out changemaking.net.

Through this course you'll learn that creating lasting change requires:

Tool

Understanding the problem 

Changing systems starts locally, by learning from and listening to the people most affected by an issue. And that’s exactly what Marco shows us in this video. 

The many complex factors — whether social, economic, cultural, political, physical, or psychological — that underly a problem might not be obvious at first glance. We can create change that is both radical and sustainable by transforming systems from the inside-out. 

What is a “system“? 

Sometimes the most challenging part of finding a solution is knowing where to look. Systems exist in various shapes and sizes — some are local, others reach across the globe— and they’re all interconnected. So how do we find the right system to target in order to create the change we want to see? 

Again, it starts with listening and learning — this time to help us discover which systems are at play and find the right spot for change. 

You can find the right system to target for change — even if it means taking smaller steps. 

Creating “systems change” 

So how do systems work? This might be the hardest part, but it is also where we start seeing things become very concrete. 

The Five R’s framework offers a helpful guide. 

Roles are the key players — including businesses, customers, and communities. Roles interact with each other over time to form relationships. Rules refer to laws and regulations. 

We also need resources, which are managed according to the roles, relationships, and rules, in order to achieve the end results. 

Ultimately, our world’s pressing problems call for changemakers who are curious, open-minded, and ask the right questions. Shifting our mindsets enables us to act and make an impact on a systems level. 


 

Changing systems is exciting work, full of challenges and learning. And you might find that “systems change” puts you on a journey of personal transformation, too.  

For an engaging, visual learning journey, head to changemaking.net, where you will find carefully designed learning modules and downloads. 

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Jean-Pierre Greenlund

Jean-Pierre collaborates across teams to develop and co-lead initiatives across the social spectrum. He has experience across industries; working in comms & design, tech, and the civil sector to build connections between innovators & entrepreneurs.