UN Updates

Systemic Change by Elsa Mutttahu, PBVM – IPA NGO Representative


We cannot transform the behavior of systems unless we transform the quality of awareness and attention that people apply to their actions within these systems, both individually and collectively.’                                                                                               -Theory U

ElsaSystemic change’ when used frequently has stripped the words of meaning and of necessary changes that will lead to transformation. Since joining the UN as IPA NGO Representative in 2014 words like making the UN “fit for purpose” and “system wide coherence” have become common language.  Over the past 20-25 years as a Presentation Sister I have seen extended leadership teams of Union spend time with professional coaches in an effort to stay abreast of organizational development.  As a member who was continuously on a search and struggling to make sense of the chaos, I had looked to leadership for new ways of seeing reality and responding creatively.  More often than not I was disillusioned!

IPA systemic change and two feet theory hold the imagination of our members! With system change what systems are we hoping to change in light of the 2030 Transformative Agenda and the IPA project?

The starting point of systemic change is reality whether of IPA, congregations, ministries, or the socio-political, cultural reality in which we are embedded. We need to ask, “What makes me cozy in this situation, and if Jesus and Nano were part of this reality, how would they respond?” Or “Are there fears that paralyze me from seeing reality for what it is and the challenges it poses?” Vision emerges from the current reality, from xenophobia, fundamentalism, politically and economically engineered arms races, wars and consequent displacement and untold suffering of refugees, migrants and trafficked people.  In the midst of political and economic instability is our calling to provide services to relieve suffering, or to hold the vision of the reign of God and what that might look like?

Modern articles confirm the idea that systemic change is possible only when we listen to the reality of our time as mystics and prophets with attentiveness. We must reorganize our actions in response to the insights and vision gained from that dialogue with reality.

What role do human rights and a rights-based approach play in all our ministries? As educators do we engage faculty and students in critical thinking processes to formulate their own responses in relation to the reality and to hold the vision of a coherent society where human dignity and rights of all are respected and facilitated?  Do we recognize ourselves as part of the ecosystem, and manage the resources of the earth sustainably?  What is the awareness of the current reality that will make the shift and the accompanying behavioral change?

As pastoral ministers do we participate with the laity in understanding the radicalism of the gospel and in creating gospel communities? As health-care workers, do we look at the socio-cultural and religious root causes of most of the health issues and the manipulation of the pharmaceutical industry? What is our outlook towards people in ministry with us? Are they subjects whose destiny is intertwined with ours, or people who meet our need to justify our existence? Serious engagement in systemic change will empower people so we may no longer be needed!

Seventeen goals and one hundred and sixty-nine targets set a vision for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. How can we use these in the realization of systemic transformation?  Like Pope Francis and Rosa Park we begin where we are and with one thing at a time, but strategically, so that action has a long term impact. We move from addressing symptoms to root causes and from direct service to policy advocacy while encouraging and supporting others who provide services.

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