The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the limitations of siloed approaches in tackling complex global issues. The need for interconnected and multi-disciplinary cooperation to address the underlying factors contributing to global challenges, including climate change and zoonotic diseases is a pressing priority globally. In this blog, I reflect on the need for a systems change approach for healthy people and planet. Detailed account here.

Complex, systemic problems require more comprehensive and holistic solutions.

A systems change approach involves looking at the bigger picture, examining the interactions and interconnections of complex problems, and identifying the factors that contribute to risks and threats. This approach also includes establishing channels for feedback and real-time learning, enabling the prediction of unforeseen events or tipping points. For example, zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19, which are caused by pathogens spilling over from animals to humans. This spillage is not a new phenomenon, over 70% of zoonotic diseases have originated from wildlife. Human activities, such as land-use changes, wildlife trade, and climate change, play a significant role in driving zoonotic spillover events.

Against this backdrop, essential characteristics of a systems change approach include:

Holistic Perspective: Instead of focusing solely on individual components, it involves considering the entire system as a whole. This means understanding how various elements interact and influence each other.

Observing Patterns of Transformation: Rather than fixating on stagnant, fixed moments in time, a systems change approach focuses on observing the patterns of transformation within the system.

Understanding Links and Relationships: It involves comprehending the essential links and relationships both within a system and among different systems. This understanding helps in identifying leverage points for effective intervention.

Involving Different Perspectives and Priorities: Collaboration among diverse stakeholders with different perspectives and priorities is crucial to address complex issues comprehensively.

Continuous Learning and Adapting: Emphasizing continuous learning and adaptation helps in responding effectively to emerging challenges and improving interventions over time.

Examining Underlying Beliefs and Premises: Questioning and challenging underlying assumptions and beliefs is essential to address systemic issues effectively.

A systems change approach to address zoonotic diseases would require a sequence of interconnected shifts. For instance, investing in sustainable strategies, such as conservation-centric activities and new energy technologies, can boost economic stability while also tackling the underlying causes of zoonotic disease outbreaks. Developing and enforcing land use policies that balance economic development with conservation goals and protect critical habitats and ecosystems is another essential shift.

Furthermore, fostering collaboration among experts from various fields, such as animal and human health, environmental scientists, and relevant stakeholders, is crucial to understand the interactions between human and animal populations and their shared environments fully. This approach involves considering the impact of activities like antibiotic use in agriculture, which can contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance in both animals and humans. Additionally, tapping into indigenous wisdom and developing a deep understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. This holistic perspective can be particularly relevant in addressing contemporary challenges.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to complex global challenges. Instead, a combination of interconnected solutions must be pieced together, allowing for adaptation and evolution based on continuous learning and new insights. A system update is necessary to achieve human and planetary well-being.

Thoughts, reflections, and comments welcome. For a detailed account and connecting with the community, click here.