Applying systems thinking for realizing the mission of technology‐based social ventures in Africa

Renee Stepler, Steve Garguilo, Khanjan Mehta and Sven Bilen

ASEE Annual Conference

Stepler, R., Garguilo, S., Mehta, K., Bilen, S., “Applying systems thinking for realizing the mission of technology‐based social ventures in Africa”, Systems Engineering Division, ASEE Annual Conference, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010


There are many university initiatives that focus on technology-based solutions to address the needs of marginalized communities. The technology-based solutions are intended to be economically and socially sustainable. These endeavors are usually well-meaning, creatively designed, and enthusiastically deployed, but do not achieve the sustainable impact envisioned at the outset of the projects. To addresses these shortcomings, at The Pennsylvania State University we are applying three key tenets of systems thinking to our humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurial ventures: 1) employing regulation via feedback to ensure that the system is actually working; 2) defining systems by their interactions and their parts; and 3) understanding that systems exhibit multi-finality. The concept of
multi-finality refers to (designing) a system where the individual actors (inputs), the subsystems, and their interactions, all meet their own goals while the system as a whole also meets its goals. In this paper, we lay the framework for the application of specific systems thinking concepts to increase the probability of success of global development ventures. We provide simple yet compelling examples from two different ventures to illustrate the power of systems thinking to train innovative problem-solvers and increase the probability of success of technology-based social entrepreneurial ventures in Africa.



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