Sustainable change needs a systemic change

Looking at the Partnering system

Have you ever asked yourself why the gap between rich and poor is continously growing in our world? Why the number of people at the poverty line, people with low or no access to food, education or health has not changed so much in the last 50 years? Why so many efforts, porjects and activities of the past, run by NGOs, governments and companies had not a bigger, not a more sustainable impact? Isn’t it strange?

Of course, there are a lot of individual success stories. And now also the big trend and also obbligations to report on them. Which is good, but also rsiky as it is all short term oriented. A lot of sustainability reports or let’s say short term measurements published in whatever format show often very positive outcomes. Bigger, higher, more. Good projects, KPIs reached, so… good impact. Logical. Well done.

But some doubts are coming up:

1. Do we really measure the right things? Are higher numbers really indicating that things change for better? Is the success in one SDG area (e.g. we have now invested xxx EUR and built xxx water solutions) really a sustainable and impactful success? The water issues in one region might become better, but people still can not afford education, have no food, no money to pay a bus fare to bring the harvest to the market or to go to the doctor (although we might have good health facilities there).

2. What about negative site effects – are they included in the reports, too ? Just think e.g. how do the “trendy women -related” projects affect men in the same communities. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really a great supporter of women projects, but we cannot just go with women and forget about men, just because women seems to be smart and social and as a topic now “en vogue”… I realize that when I talk about men projects to potential partners they look in a very surprised way to me. Men??? Yes, men, because women live and act together with men. So, my question here is why women only? When I’m in our project regions, listening to the women and hear about the growing violence at their homes, that is partly grounded also in the unbalanced skill transfer to women only, watching the men who observe behind trees whats going on (and how helpless they feel being excluded) , I’m questionning the super women projects that we highlight so often. Also media plays an important role here and might make us sometimes blind….but this is another topic.

3. What if we re-check the so-called “success stories” after five years: what remains? How many people e.g. living at the poverty line have been able to leave this zone and to conduct long-term a better life that comprises all basics needs such as health, nutrition, education, mobility, better environment, farming, income generation, culture, infrastructures etc? Well, all this was not in the scope of our activities? But if this is not considered as a whole in our “sustainable acting” and part of the planned activities as the overall goal, so what? Don’t we miss the most important thing?

4. The system itself of how we understand partnering, co-creation and holistic solutions needs change. There is one important thing that I realized in the past years while working very closely with NGOs, social entrepreneurs and companies: Yes, we can grow the numbers of activities and efforts, identify more changemakers and partners, invest even more money and get more and good results. But for a real change “on the ground” we have to go deeper, we have to change the system itself on how we “as organizations/actors” engage. This has to be a conscious decision, a change in the way on how we think about sustainability and change that reflects then also in the single activites and how we bring them together. It’s no longer about projects, partners and activities only, it’s not about growing the number of reached people and number of engagements. It’s about relationship management among the partners. It’s about developing a common set of structures, values and vision, it’s about investing in the “AND” , not in adding partners only. It’s about making 1 AND 1 = 3. This requests that we focus on building relationships with partners who also engage in more systemic ways (at the right time, based on the needs of the communities, several solutions in parallel, WITH the communities, not For the communities – just to name a few) and that we have/plan also resources for doing so. I’m not talking about PPPs or big associations/membership organisation building, I talk about a real systemic partnering building, a framework that matters. About the interconnectivity of subsystems within systems and other subsystems. There is a huge knowledge gap about system thinking and understanding …

With the launch of the System Changer Network Kenya at the beginning of February 2022 we have started our journey of making the systemic framework visible. A framework that has developped beyond the borders of every single player/organization that is part of it. We, that’s 11 partners from different sectors (national/international/NGOs, foundations, social enterprises, companies) who work practically together in several communities, on several topics – over a long period. We analyze constantly our relationships in terms of quantity and quality on the partnering/organizational level (not just on what the single partners are doing “on the ground”, but rather on how we connect to each other, how we can build structures to connect the “isolated” activities across the country in a really systemic way and how we can systematically co-create to grow the imoact exponentially on the ground – with a minimum of efforts. How to build redundant structures (because this is one essential element on how systems get sustainable), how to develop volunteering structures in the communities to spread knowledge in a more efficient way to thousands and thousands of people. We talk about common values and our big vision which is not about solving the water issue only, or to do a health project, but about identifying the big gaps and to develop holistic solutions where the ownership is with the communities and can spread easily. We are not “perfect” yet and do not have all solutions, but we all agree that the system how we have been acting in the past decades has to be changed if we want to see different results in the world. We are believers that a systemic partnership network “at the top”/of organizations might grow the impact “on the ground” exponentially.

In a next step we will look into a simple approach also with our partners in India.

Have a look at our SCN Kenya video:

Making a real sustainable longterm impact happen is challenging and depends on so many different factors. Some of them we can influence, others we can’t. But we have a responsibility to try new ways and to question what we have done in the past and how we engage. We should not follow simply on what seems to be “in”. Let’s do it differently. For our planet and ourselves!

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