Systems Change vs Individual Change

What is systems change? 

It is the idea that true, definitive change can only be realized through solutions that address the root cause of an issue. Those in charge of establishing solutions must look at revolutionizing current perspectives that typically only address the symptoms of systemic issues by incorporating a holistic view when looking at solution-building. The issues we face today are interconnected, presenting themselves due to a multitude of overlapping factors that must be analyzed to determine the root of the issue, not just the tip of the iceberg.  

Thus, solutions to these issues that only address symptoms are, at best, ineffective. This is why individual change alone will not result in long-term solutions for the future. Actions such as recycling, boycotting single-use plastics and shifting to renewable sources of energy are important, but they do not get to the reason why these issues must be addressed. Instead, the Institute for Ecological Civilization desires to look deeper than the surface and recognize why these individual changes must occur. Identifying root causes of issues is the first step towards a sustainable future; acting on them will ensure that solutions will be long-lasting. EcoCiv exists on the basis that systems change is the best lens to which today’s problems can be properly addressed and acted upon for the wellbeing of both people and the planet.

This systemic perspective underpins EcoCiv’s goals and priorities as an organization committed to taking a critical and holistic approach to navigating the world’s problems and their many solutions. All programs within EcoCiv use this approach to guide their methodology and project planning. 

  • The Conservation Economies program recognizes that environmental degradation is a direct result of exploitative economic systems and the lack of a community structure that supports both people and planet. It focuses on working with experts in conservation and rural development – bringing them together to identify shared principles and actions for Conservation Economies globally.
  • Conversations for a Life Economy is a project that grants these issues a stage where influential voices can openly speak on how they are attempting to bring about long-term, sustainable change in their respective spheres of influence. It aims to inspire policymakers, business leaders, and activists to implement a system solutions-approach to complex social, environmental, and economic challenges in their work. 
  • EcoCiv’s water program, W12+, brings forward innovative solutions to ensure water security for all. They do not work to only bring more people more water; instead, they take the systems approach to address the issues that make people water insecure in the first place. With partners at Water for South Sudan, we are designing a workforce development program to address a root cause of poor drinking water quality — a lack of trained and qualified people to monitor the drinking water supply.

At EcoCiv, we do not only look at the problem and act from there. We ask ourselves, “Why is this happening? Why is it that individuals are not receiving the same resources as others? Why is it that ecosystems are destroyed? Why is it that the climate has changed so drastically so quickly?” Questions like these provide the basis to the worldview that EcoCiv promotes: a systems change approach. We are not advocating for individuals to stop changing their behavior. Continue to be the change the future needs! Instead, we are asking individuals to reflect on why it is that we must reduce the use of plastic, why it is that renewable energy is not the norm, why it is that we consume as much as we do? What is your why? 

Written by: Juliana Arnold
EcoCiv’s Communications and Writing Assistant

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