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We Should All Be Systems Thinkers

19 January 2021

The Bertha Centre kicks off UCT Map the System Competition

The Bertha Centre have recently launched the 2021 Map the System competition in association with the Skoll Centre at the University of Oxford. This competition gives students and recent alumni from UCT an opportunity to deeply investigate systemic issues and be given the opportunity to present these at Oxford, with funding available for winning teams to investigate their issues more deeply

In 2020, COVID-19 showcased the limitations of our social institutions and illustrated how they have come to normalise and perpetuate inequality. This period of social upheaval has also painted a clearer picture of how our systems are built to incentivise negative political and economic externalities. However, what is less clear, is what kind of response can lead to scalable and long-term social transformation. Systems thinking offers us the approaches and language to reimagine and create a society that centres resilience, adaptability, inclusivity, social justice and ecological sustainability.

The pandemic completely upended our assumptions about how the world operates and our expectations about how quickly we can reorganise our lives and organisations. It’s evident that we have a limited understanding of how complex, interdependent, unpredictable and emergent our systems are. The global pandemic illustrated how our reliance on centralisation, linear decision making, reactive policy design, and asystemic thinking, for example, often means we’re largely unprepared to respond in a crisis. For institutions, entrepreneurs, governments, civil society organisations and communities it’s become apparent that there is no single policy, regulation, innovation or leader that can adequately respond to today's social challenges. Systems thinking has the capacity to unlock catalytic social transformation and build ecosystems that support innovative and scalable social change.

The frameworks and concepts utilised by systems thinking practitioners enable us to identify the historical and structural factors that shape our systems, to delineate the relationships and power dynamics between actors, to identify the complex patterns and feedback loops within systems and to map out where and how founders, entrepreneurs, or civic actors can begin intervening in systems. Systems thinking allows us to create a shared understanding and language about our world and the ways to organise our thoughts and actions in order to take advantage of leverage points within our systems. Importantly, a systems thinking approach is also valuable because it does not disregard the values, beliefs and assumptions that underpin a system. In fact, systems entrepreneurs are encouraged to think deeply about empathy and compassion when addressing social challenges.

Enter the Map the System Competition

If you’re a UCT student who's keen to develop your systems capabilities and have an issue that you deeply care about, enter the 2021 Map the System competition. Map the System is a global competition, hosted by the Saïd Business School and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, which brings together university students with the objective of applying systems thinking to address current social, economic, and environmental challenges. Teams will have the opportunity to present their work at Oxford University and stand a chance to win cash to advance their work.

For the past four years the Social Systems Innovation Portfolio at the Bertha Centre has hosted the competition at UCT. In 2020 the Bertha Centre will continue to support students by hosting workshops and providing guidance on how to complete the registration and submit an entry. Read more about past teams that have gone on to represent UCT in Oxford. The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students within any field of study.

Click here to register your team for Map the System.

The final date to register your team is 31 January 2021.

For more information about how to register your team email us

Kentse Radabe - Social Systems Innovation Project Manager – Bertha Centre (UCT GSB)\ Rowan Spazzoli - Social entrepreneur, strategist, and lecturer at UCT