Researchers Promote “Systems Leadership” for Achieving SDGs
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The Harvard Kennedy School published a preview of its research into “systems leadership,” an approach to solving complex problems.

The authors suggest that systems leadership is suited to harnessing broad-based efforts towards achieving the SDGs.

January 2019: The Harvard Kennedy School, US, published a preview of research into “systems leadership,” an approach to solving complex problems, which suggests that systems leadership is suited to harnessing broad-based efforts towards achieving the SDGs. The authors argue that each of the 17 SDGs represents complex systems such as climate, food, health and cities, and achieving change will require a departure from traditional top-down, hierarchical approaches, in favor of adaptive and collaborative approaches that engage with diverse stakeholders.

The research preview is issued in the form of the executive summary to a forthcoming report. The summary identifies key features of systems leadership: engaging with stakeholders to define shared goals; conducting a mapping of the system in question; finding ways to energize stakeholders, for example through inspiration, incentives and deadlines; acting with accountability; and reviewing progress. The authors provide examples of practice in the work of coalitions such as We Mean Business, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) New Vision for Agriculture initiative.

The authors – Lisa Dreier and Jane Nelson of the Kennedy School’s Corporate Responsibility Initiative, and David Nabarro of Imperial College, UK, and 4SD – consider that systems leadership is not yet widely practiced, and holds promise as a tool for addressing the multi-dimensional challenges underlying the SDGs.

The School’s systems leadership research is supported by its Corporate Responsibility Initiative. The full report is to be published in early 2019. [Executive Summary of Report] [Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative Website]

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