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YOU 177 Big Picture
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It's About Systems

It's about systems…

YOU 177 reflects a big-picture approach across Big Time – your life in the context of the past, present, and future.

Our current problems are so complex and interrelated that traditional incremental approaches just won't work.

In the words of researcher John Sutherland, "complexity is the game that the systems approach is designed to play."

The term "system" is used to cover a wide range of phenomena: number systems, solar systems, philosophical systems, sewage systems, price systems, educational systems, value systems, weapons systems, and nervous systems. Humans are not self-sufficient beings. Our goals, our objectives, often cannot be obtained without the cooperation of other human beings. We can't get what we want by ourselves. We're interdependent with others – especially those older and younger – in achieving our bigger goals. And so we are enmeshed in a nexus of systems.

A system is a way of looking at the world. Systems theory is a loosely organized and highly abstract set of principles that serve to direct thinking but which are subject to different interpretations. Systems problems require systems solutions. Said social scientist Stafford Beer, "Take a living thing apart to discover what life is: you will not find a component called life – and behold the living thing is dead. Shall we take a radio apart to find the voice? Or a car engine to pieces to find the speed?"

Systems theory is based on the dictum the whole is more than the sum of the parts. That's where the application of systems theory becomes part skill and part art.

The Skoll World Forum explores big-picture, systemic approaches to solving the world's problems in a way that reflects a triple bottom line: financial, social, and environmental. The themes that emerged from the conference provide a useful context for YOU 177 as a leading-edge, big-picture, social innovation initiative.

Based on the summary of the Skoll World Forum by Ashoka UK Director Mark Cheng, here are the themes as they connect to YOU 177:

  • It's about changing the system. Broadcaster Ray Suarez said it quite eloquently: "Nobody ever comes out and says they are in favor of starving children, or inadequate sanitation, or war and conflict. And yet they persist. So, how is it that if no one is for these things, and everyone is against them, these problems continue?" Because of the momentum of existing systems, systems we created and then often use as an excuse. Systemic change is the new game in town. It's the game YOU 177 is playing, connecting dots in new ways using an intergenerational mechanism to transform systems.

  • Change is accelerating. The old, incremental way of tackling problems won't work anymore. We need to radically imagine new ways of coming together to deal with the accelerating world of change. YOU 177 recognizes the imperative of the now and the new, but uses a metaperspective that encourages bigger thinking and context – Big Time instead of little time.

  • To solve our problems, we need more problem solvers. The problems we face are so big that we need to accelerate the number of people who understand and act on them. YOU 177 calls on YOU to have the courage to step up and make a difference. Experts and leaders can't do it for us.

  • It starts with the young – and the old. It's easy to focus on the young as our future. It's true that helping young people develop the life skills to flourish in this new world is critical to solving the problems we're facing. But we need to go one step further. WHO is helping those young people? Under YOU 177, by connecting across generations we utilize the fundamental fact that memories are not the key to the past, but to the future. The deeper the roots, the taller the tree. The young need the old to grow into everything they can be.

  • Scale through collaboration. Partnerships, collaborations, scaling through influence, and encouraging imitation – these are the key. Multiply your power. YOU 177 encourages a united, collective approach. One straw alone cannot do much work; many straws in a broom can make a clean sweep of it.

  • Technology is driving creative disruption. It's always fun to talk about tech, and it drives much of the change in today's world – not always for the better. Under YOU 177, social progress – a r/evolution in human thinking – is emphasized as much as technological progress, balancing high-tech with high-touch. We live in a world that's more "connected" than ever before, but more people of all ages feel more isolated than ever before.

  • Power is moving from the few to the many. Empowering people as far down the chain as possible is key to the systemic change we're seeing and need. The days of a few commanding many (even if those few are brilliant and enlightened) is coming to an end. Under YOU 177, we call for each of the 7 billion people on this planet to use their power of legacy for transformative, widespread change.

  • The silos are breaking down. Are the NGO, the corporation, and the government agency reaching the end of their shelf life in their current form? When Sarah Severn from Nike spoke about integrating sustainability into the DNA of business, and Maura O'Neill, chief innovation officer of USAID, spoke about re-engineering the aid model in language any corporate CEO would recognize, it was hard to tell who was the NGO and who was the corporate leader. And that's a great thing. YOU 177 finds opportunities in building bridges and synthesizing.

  • Here comes the social intrapreneur. Enacting change from within an organization or system can be trickier, but more effective. YOU 177 challenges you to take whatever you're already about/doing and reframe and expand it, working very much from the inside out.

  • When you pass the torch on, light many fires. Many leaders of the social venture movement are approaching, or already into, their 70s – some are older. A poignant moment at the Skoll World Forum occurred during a panel discussion when Bill Strickland, Paul Farmer, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland – titans of this movement – were asked about succession planning and how they saw legacy. Interestingly, all answered that they saw their legacy in teaching, mentoring, and inspiring others. "One torch can light many fires" was a common theme – and therein is the power of legacy that's at the core of YOU 177.

So, as we said, it's about the systemic big picture. Bigger shouldn't be daunting; what it does is open up more possibilities.

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