These are some of the challenges I’ve spotted;
Power dynamics are always at play in systems change work. How do you build enough credibility to convene the best actors in a system? How do you get finance for your work when the people with the money often have a vested interest in things staying the same? How do you accept money from the power brokers of a system and keep questioning its foundations? Given too much control over a systems change projects, these leaders can jeopardise the independence of a project. A leader of the organic food movement I met at an event, told me how the media quickly raised its profile, only to publicly discredit it by labelling it the vestige of the upper middle classes.
Trust To lead systems change you have to be someone who can hold their own with different players in the system. Heads of industry, regulators, the entrepreneurs. You need to be able to win genuine trust and build empathy for the different points of view.
Overwhelm Acting on many places of the system at once and nurturing these varied communities can cause burn out. Your role involves bringing together a dissatisfied group of stakeholders, surfacing that discomfort, motivating others into action, nurturing these communities over the long term, whilst finding the words to report back on progress as it emerges to secure funding. This can be exhausting work and burn out seems to be a common phenomenon.
Hosting You need to be a skilled convenor because the process of hosting these communities is so key.
Measuring impact and securing funding systemic innovation takes time. Unfortunately funders are not geared up for this emerging type of change and need outputs and impact.