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Changing the World With Systems Thinking

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MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Anjali Sastry, SB ’86, PhD ’95, is helping alumnae tackle the world’s greatest challenges by encouraging them to collaborate with each other, embrace small steps, and connect with the Institute.

Anjali Sastry, SB ’86, PhD ’95

“There is a missing middle ground that scales beyond one individual but is not necessarily changing government policy,” Sastry said.

Alumnae and friends from around the globe gathered online for “The World Needs You” in January to discuss how they could come together to identify global problems and take action. “Are there things you can imagine doing with your companies, your communities, your volunteer work, or your religious organizations?” Sastry asked.

System design and systems thinking—concepts pioneered at MIT Sloan that enable people to influence complex entities by identifying overlap, lags, and points of leverage—informed the session’s approach. Offering an example, Sastry explained how she and her students applied system dynamics and systems thinking to improve health care delivery to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

During the session, the group focused on challenges the United Nations has outlined in its Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, U.N. member countries agreed to tackle 17 critical issues—such as poverty, gender equality, and education—to help create a safer and healthier society and planet by 2030. A majority of the MIT Sloan participants chose to work on sustainability and climate change.

Sastry said the process lays the groundwork for larger solutions later on. “What seems like a small action could really help reveal the bigger picture, help you understand connections, and give you a way to work with others.”

“The World Needs You” was the first of three virtual seminars for alumnae hosted by the MIT Sloan Office of External Relations and the Women’s Conference Steering Committee. These sessions focused on the theme of connection, empowerment, and action.

“One of the characteristics of the students who go to MIT Sloan, and in particular women, is the desire to make an impact,” said Aliza Blachman O’Keeffe, SM ’90, who serves on the steering committee. And one of the most impactful ways to solve problems big and small, she continued, is through a systems thinking approach.

“We thought the best way to get each of us involved in the things we care about was to join together as a community and talk about systems thinking to determine how or where to engage.”

The in-person MIT Sloan Women’s Conference from October 21 to 22, 2022, in Cambridge, will build on these concepts and feature talks, panel discussions, and networking sessions with MIT Sloan faculty and alumnae. Learn more about how to register.

For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933