Dancing with the system: Reflecting on the 2021 Map the System global final

Monday, June 14, 2021

Friday, June 11th 2021 marked the end of another cycle of the Map the System pitch competition. Teams from around the world dedicated their time and effort to addressing systems change in their local campus semi-finals, national finals, and finally the global showcase throughout 2021. Among them, University of Waterloo students Ewomazino Odhigbo, Leah Feor, and Muhammed Ahsanur Rahim were thrilled to advance to the global stage of the competition to look even deeper into the change making power of systems thinking.


Systems Week 2021 graphic with four illustrated figures in yellow, blue and beige clothing and shoes.For the first time ever, hosts at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship integrated the 2021 Map the System finals into a weeklong celebration of systems thinking. Systems Week occurred online from June 7th to 11th, 2021. Each day, participants were guided through a variety of discussions, presentations, and provocations in which audiences shared their insights on re-setting systems through a social, health, climate, or economic lens.

Knowledge equity is not about elevating one form of knowledge over the other. The problems we face are so vast and sticky, we need everyone on board.

Peter Drobac, Map the System 2021 Keynote Speaker

The 2021 global finals of Map the System concluded the inaugural Systems Week by announcing the top Map the System finalists from around the world and reflecting on some moments of realization throughout the week. Teams representing 38 different universities attended the event, with just eight showcased live during the grand finale. Topics included housing affordability, homelessness, food poverty, sex trafficking, creating climate resilient cities, and the role of fine art in Ghana. After witnessing so many passionate presentations that demonstrated the power of self-reflection and interdisciplinary collaboration, judges announced the winners of Map the System 2021 with University of British Columbia in 1st place, National University of Singapore in 2nd, and University of Oxford in 3rd.

Teams from four Canadian universities took part in the activities  Ahsan, Leah, and Ewomazino.after excelling in Map the System Canada’s national competition in May. University of Waterloo students Ewomazino Odhigbo, Leah Feor, and Muhammed Ahsanur Rahim were thrilled to advance to this global stage of the competition alongside others from the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and Wilfrid Laurier University.

While the University of Waterloo did not advance beyond the preliminary rounds of the global finals, their outstanding work on the Precarious conditions for foreign labour in Malaysian palm oil plantations demonstrated a deep level of understanding and commitment. Indeed, in the lead up to both the Canadian and global finals the team continued to develop their project with the support of Simron Singh, Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, Paul Heidebrecht, Director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, and other campus and community experts.


Catch up on the Canadian competition by reading UWaterloo Map the System team goes global, or check out the submissions from this year’s Canadian competitors.


“Our experience in undertaking this effort has been both inspiring and humbling in that we have learnt and applied new ways of thinking about a key social issue; and we have understood the level of complexity that real world practitioners of development efforts face in trying to alleviate critical social and environmental problems” shared Rahim while reflecting on the team’s experience throughout this competition. Similarly, Feor reflected that "moving through the different levels of this competition has allowed our team to continuously improve our research by integrating feedback from our professor, the team at the Centre for Peace Advancement, as well as the coaches and judges at the event."

I am most excited about how this competition has helped strengthen my systems thinking skills and increase my confidence in identifying leverage points for change in complex systems.

Leah Feor, 2021 Finalist

Looking back on Systems Week and this year’s Map the System competition, it is clear that working closely with a systems lens alongside others from a diverse collection of backgrounds and experiences has profoundly influenced participants and audience members. “This week felt rich,” reflected keynote speaker Baljeet Sandhu; “It was beautiful seeing so many academics working side by side with community members, combining different spaces and modalities, and bringing diverse wisdom to the table”. “Participants took the effort to look at themselves in relation to their research. Continue to think about the people who sit at the centre of the system and take the time to interrogate yourselves”, urges judge Shola Diop.

In closing, judge Josiane Smith shared an excerpt of the poem Lines in the mind, not in the world by systems thinking pioneer, Donella Meadows. Then judge Gurpreet Singh summed it up: “You’ve been dancing with the system. Presentations show how complex the dancing can be. Become better dancers.” 


Visit the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement website for more information on Map the System at the University of Waterloo. Interested in participating next year? Sign up to receive Map the System updates when the 2021/2022 competition kicks off.

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