The Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation (LYCF) and SIMFO recently concluded the second year of their summer talent development program, Thinker School (思學堂), that aims to nurture outstanding young individuals with a range of innovative approaches to thinking and problem solving. The ultimate goal is to foster Taiwan’s next generation of leaders with diverse influences. This year, Thinker School was subtitled, Systems Change Incubator, bringing a focus to the systems thinking skills required to drive intentional, collective action to transform systems for a sustainable Taiwan.
This year's Thinker School attracted nearly 100 applicants. After a rigorous interview process, 30 spots were awarded to promising candidates across a range of ages and experiences; from high school students to working professionals. Students formed into groups to take on a systems change challenge provided by one of six partner organizations. These groups represented impact networks, government, industry, and non-profit foundations.
Across five Saturday classes spanning nine weeks, participant groups learned to interview stakeholders to unveil mental models, synthesize the causal structure of the system using systems mapping, and then scan the landscape of solutions for potential interventions to advance their systems change mission. Collectively, students conducted 95 stakeholder interviews and identified 60 different potential solutions. The process concluded in early September with each team convening a systems mapping workshop in which relevant stakeholders evaluated the potential of the collected solutions against the specific context depicted in the systems maps drawn by the participants.
SIMFO’s design for the program sought to serve as an example of an “ecosystem-centric” approach to education. By encouraging students to view the world as their classroom, the program worked not only to teach skills, but also to align students’ awareness, attention, and action to addressing real societal needs. "Thinker School has given me the opportunity to face real problems with actual stakeholders and have a greater societal impact,” said CHAN Hsun-Ya, a recent graduate from National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Department of Agricultural Economics. Beatrice Hu, a fourth year NTU student studying innovation, highlighted the role of systems thinking to her future career saying that it, "...helped us visualize our thought processes, both diverging and converging, to understand our problems and the dynamic effects of solutions."
Beyond benefit to the students, the Systems Change Incubator sought to do just as its name suggests: to incubate new intentional initiatives capable of driving systems change in Taiwan.
Establishing economic incentives for carbon farming
One group focused on the development of "carbon farming," assessing how communities and businesses can cooperate with small-scale farmers to assist in carbon credit procurement to maximize the income of small-scale farmers.
Leveraging foreign and migrant talent to fill Taiwan’s talent shortage
This team conducted in-depth interviews with over 20 foreign blue-collar and white-collar migrant workers – some of whom were undocumented, labor brokers, and overseas students to understand how Taiwan can leverage its foreign students and migrant workers to address the country’s labor shortage.
Exploring a circular economy approach to eliminate face mask pollution
Working with mask manufacturers, granulating plants, business, and the public, this team explored how a circular economy could ensure that mask pollution does not backfire on the protection of human health.
Exploring policy options to foster information literacy
This team integrated feedback from groups spanning the education field: teacher education, school administration, parents, students, businesses, and society on the topic of "information literacy." Director TSAI Ming-Hsueh of the National Academy for Educational Research said, "the student teams helped us understand the difficulties we might encounter when implementing important policies in the education sector. Throughout the process, they also proposed solutions. While it may not be a perfect 100% answer, I believe they have achieved at least 70%, providing us with a solid foundation for our future curriculum."
Building robust collective action initiatives to change systems will not happen automatically nor is it an easy process. By developing young systems leaders, equipped with the ability to think systemically and facilitate collaborative action, Thinker School: Systems Change Incubator (link in Chinese) has made that possibility much more likely.