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Applying Systems Thinking For Realizing The Mission Of Technology Based Social Ventures In Africa

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Conference

2010 Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

A Systems Thinking Approach to Solving Problems

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count

24

Page Numbers

15.188.1 - 15.188.24

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/16690

Download Count

16

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Paper Authors

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Renee Stepler Pennsylvania State University

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RENEE STEPLER is an undergraduate student majoring in Security and Risk Analysis in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University. Her professional aspirations include intelligence analysis, emergency management, international development and disaster relief. Renee is a member of the Mashavu team.

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Steve Garguilo Johnson & Johnson Inc.

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STEVE GARGUILO is an Associate Analyst in the Information Technology Leadership Development Program at Johnson & Johnson. His professional interests include emerging markets, complex technology-based problem solving, innovative system integration, high-tech entrepreneurship and international social entrepreneurship. Steve is a member of the WishVast team and the work described in this paper was conducted during his Senior year studying towards a Bachelors degree in Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University.

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Khanjan Mehta Pennsylvania State University

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KHANJAN MEHTA is a Senior Research Associate in the Electronic and Computer Services department and an affiliate faculty member in the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs in the College of Engineering at Penn State. Khanjan leads Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship initiatives at Penn State. His research interests include systems thinking, social networks, application of cellphones for development, innovation in engineering design education and indigenous knowledge systems. He is the PI for the Mashavu and WishVast ventures and the corresponding author for this paper.

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Sven Bilen Pennsylvania State University

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SVEN G. BILÉN is an Associate Professor of Engineering Design, Electrical Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering at Penn State and Interim Head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs. His educational research interests include developing techniques for enhancing engineering design education, teaching technological entrepreneurship, global product design, and systems design.

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Abstract
NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Applying Systems Thinking for Realizing the Mission of Technology-based Social Ventures in Africa

Abstract

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.

Introduction: Need for Systems Thinking

There are many university initiatives that focus on technology-based solutions to address the needs of marginalized communities—the poor, the underserved, i.e., those at the “Base of the Pyramid”. 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. On the macro scale, the history of development efforts to assist marginalized communities in a sustainable fashion has been fraught with peril. In 2004, the African Development Bank judged 78% of its funds disbursed were for projects that were not sustainable.1 The Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), the World Bank’s private sector arm, examined the performance of 627 projects under implementation between 1996 and 2006 and discovered that over 40% of all projects were unsuccessful at generating positive development results. It is even more distressing to learn that, when assessment of such projects is broadened to encompass a timeframe beyond the immediate completion of projects, the number of favorable assessments falls considerably.

Peter Senge2 explains that “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots’...Today systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity. Perhaps for the first time in history, humankind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb, to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change far faster than anyone’s ability to keep pace.”

Stepler, R., & Garguilo, S., & Mehta, K., & Bilen, S. (2010, June), Applying Systems Thinking For Realizing The Mission Of Technology Based Social Ventures In Africa Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. https://peer.asee.org/16690

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