Inclusive Systems

Achieving Sustainable Impact at Scale

At Helvetas we are convinced that sustainable and large-scale impact at the individual and household level can only be achieved if change at the systemic level is achieved as well.

Why systemic change matters

We can build a well in a village to ensure access to clean water. But after a while, the well may need repair. If no one knows how to maintain it, there will be no more clean water. Another example -  we can pay for a hundred of the unemployed to get trained, but it won’t make a big difference in a province with hundreds of thousands of jobless.

Without systemic thinking, we can even cause unintentional harm. For example, by providing farmers with new advanced agricultural equipment, we can unintentionally destroy local businesses that specialize in building and repairing farming tools, thus creating more poverty than income. We may also make farmers dependent on this equipment instead of strengthening their access to ever-changing technology.

Our solution

The Inclusive Systems Approach means that we strive for an impact that is socially, economically and politically sustainable and that lasts and spreads beyond our support.

It means that our work not only supports farmers in using their land sustainably, but also fosters integrated management of natural resources, taking into account the ecological system overall. That we not only work with partners to find the right technical solutions, but also strengthen them to address underlying power imbalances in the social and political systems. And that we not only strive to improve the income of households, but also contribute to the improvement of economic systems, so that they work for the poor, mitigate disparities and promote social equity over the longer term.

The systemic change agenda lies at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. 

Examples of the approach in action

We use different methodologies for systemic change such as Market Systems Development (MSD), also known as Making Market Work for the Poor (M4P), Political Economy and Power Analysis (PEPA) and others. 

Traders, processors and import and export companies in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are not only establishing a successful trade in medicinal herbs but are also integrating sustainable use and social ethics into their business practices.

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In Tanzania, Helvetas has supported villages in protecting their harvests from pests and rot, but has also worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to draw up a national strategy to prevent post-harvest losses on a systemic level in the long-run.

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In Bangladesh, by identifying 12 poor- and women-friendly value chains, we ensured that 47% of producers involved in the project were women, and that the project benefitted 900,000 poor farmers. 

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Decentralization and Local Development Program (DLDP) in Albania not only built capacities of local governments but also became a systemic part of policy-making and regular training of the public administration.

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How can we translate the analysis of the key building blocks of the water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) system into targeted interventions? In this paper, we share our experience from a WASH project in Haiti.

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In Albania, media launched popular products about the labor market, helping young people choose a career. In Kosovo, two job matching services became financially viable, leading to the birth of a successful industry. 

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One organization doesn't have the knowledge, network, or resources to achieve ambitious goals alone. That is why Helvetas has been working with partner organizations in all program countries for over 60 years.

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Why should we care about concepts like systemic change? What is it about? What are good examples of the approach in practice? Our author Zenebe Uraguchi writes a regular blog on inclusive systems

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Join us

Want to promote sustainable and large-scale systemic change together with us? Contact us and we will be happy to partner up. 

Management Officer
Severin Huber

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Inclusive Systems Approach – Guiding Principles

For Helvetas, it is not enough that development initiatives help to change systems to increase productivity or efficiency. It is equally important that the improved systems create better opportunities for poor and marginalized women and men and contribute to the sustainable use of environmental resources.

We understand sustainability as a system’s future capability to function and adapt to changing realities, based on the interplay of perspectives that all system actors bring to the table.

Change is driven through local ownership and initiative of development partners and system actors. We avoid performing permanent functions within systems and thereby distorting them. Our role is facilitative, stimulating system actors to take on change-supporting roles within targeted systems for large-scale impact.

Supporting system change processes is highly complex and requires constant learning and adaptation of strategies. We conduct sound and ongoing analysis and foster critical enquiry and active discourse, internally and with our partners and system actors. This allows us to better understand root causes, to adapt our work in practical ways, and to support others in changing what they do.

A sound monitoring and evaluation system enables us to detect change, to assess the effectiveness of what we do, and to plausibly attribute change to our systemic actions. This is increasingly important when addressing constraints in the wider system, where the link between what we do and the change we hope to see becomes more indirect.

The management of programs dealing with complex and dynamic systems requires an internal organization (structure, policies, and processes) that supports adaptive management and responsiveness to changing realities and emerging opportunities. Our projects are implemented in a flexible manner that allows ongoing improvement, while maintaining accountability towards our clients.

We communicate the opportunities and challenges of systemic change in concise and attractive messages, tailoring them to different target audiences depending on their interests and needs, while emphasizing the scale and sustainability of our work.

To create an environment conducive to systemic change, we demonstrate the advantages of the approach to the development community, inspiring other NGOs and institutional donors to adopt it.

Our Advisory Services

Meet and contact Helvetas’ multi-disciplinary team of development experts advising the private sector, civil society and other organizations.

Our Impact

As a learning organization we assess the impact of our interventions to improve our work and to ensure accountability vis-a-vis our donors and partners.