The responsibility of adopting a systems thinking lens, however, cannot rest solely on grassroots nonprofits. Funders, intermediaries, and others must also think differently. Liby adds that in the absence of support from the larger ecosystem, it becomes nearly impossible for nonprofits to  incorporate a systems thinking framework in their work.

“Organisations, especially younger nonprofits that are still finding their footing, don’t have the agency to dictate a set of operating methods that deviate from how the larger system is already functioning. I don’t think there’s a solution unless the system itself starts thinking this way.”

What will it take to create this enabling ecosystem?
Funders, intermediary organisations, and larger nonprofits can play a significant role in shaping the trajectory of a nonprofit’s work; they dictate where and how resources are allocated and what priorities are set. Therefore, it’s crucial for these different stakeholders to embrace systems thinking in their own practices to enable nonprofits to do the same. Here are some strategies to achieve this:

1. Listen to different narratives
Narratives have the power to shape perceptions. The prevailing discourse on climate change is largely confined to Western-centric, scientific frameworks, which neglect local contexts. To truly address the complexities of climate change, there is an urgent need to broaden the discourse and incorporate diverse perspectives and marginalised voices that are often sidelined.

Larger nonprofits can contribute to this narrative-building exercise in a significant manner. It is critical for metro-headquartered nonprofits not to  impose their worldview and ideas of climate thinking on the local, community-based organisations they partner with.

2. Address knowledge gaps
Systems thinking isn’t a framework everyone is familiar with. Aman Singh highlights that the systems thinking framework has yet to reach the grassroots level. “While many may grasp it intuitively, most nonprofits working on the ground still lack familiarity with this framework.”

3. Broaden the scope of funding outcomes
There has been an increasing pressure on nonprofits to think in a linear fashion. “It’s all ‘Go, go, go,’ and there really is no space for nonprofits to sit down, and map the system and the various relationships within it,” shares Neha.

Read the full article about systems thinking by Shreya Adhikari and Sneha Philip at India Development Review.