systemic change 2This four-week series by Fr Robert P. Maloney, C.M. aims at helping members of the Vincentian Family find more ways of talking and reflecting about concept systemic change and its implications. In this final installment, Fr. Maloney describes aspects that distinguish systemic change projects. – .ed

Many good projects address urgent, immediate needs, but do not take aim at causes of a problem. Here are five criteria met by projects positioned to bring about systemic change:

  1. Long-range social impact: this is the most basic characteristic of systemic change: that is, that the project helps change the overall life-situation of those who benefit from it.
  2. Sustainability: the project helps create the social structures that are needed for a permanent change in the lives of the poor, such as employment, education, housing, the availability of clean water and sufficient food, and ongoing local leadership.
  3. Replicability: the project can he adapted to solve similar problems in other places. The philosophy or spirituality that grounds the project, the strategies it employs and the techniques it uses can be applied in a variety of circumstances.
  4. Scope: concretely, this means that the project actually has spread beyond its initial context and has been used successfully in other settings in the country where it began, or internationally, either by those who initiated it, or by others who have adapted elements of it.
  5. Innovation: the project has brought about significant social change by transforming traditional practice. Transformation has been achieved through the development of a pat tern-changing idea and its successful implementation.

Our time, like Vincent’s, is fraught with war and threats of war. At the same time, a heightened sense of the global community has emerged. This community understands the necessity of global response to local disasters earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. It hears a cry for the opportunities created by access to jobs, education, housing, and health care. It sees a need to eradicate discrimination because of race, tribe, gender religion, age and other factors. It looks for transparency and the elimination of corruption. It looks for peace and justice, seeds of which are planted by projects that bring about systemic change.

In Catholic social teaching, the Church’s call for such change was already evident in Pacem in Terris and in Gaudium et Spes. Pope Paul VI expressed the theme eloquently in Populorum Progressio, and called Christians, in an address to the members of Cor Unum given on January 13, 1972, to commit themselves to enter into “the very heart of social and political action and thus get at the roots of evil and change hearts, as well as the structures of modern society.”

The Vincentian Family’s focus on systemic change has this purpose. And the purpose is why it matters that we learn to aim consistently and with resolve for systemic change.

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