The Fifth Discipline in Uganda

The purpose of this post is to bring to your attention the story of Uganda Rural Development Training (URDT). It came to me through a tweet by @will_allen on May 5, 2011: Platforms for Transformation – blog post acknowledging the global potential of change initiatives already underway – http://bit.ly/migiR0. This link points to a blog post by the executive director of the ALIA Institute, in which she mentions an account of Peter Senge’s talk at the 2010 ALIA Summer Institute.

Peter Senge is best known for his influential management book “The Fifth Discipline“, which I read last year and which made me wonder if the same approach could be applied in the developing world. In fact, the idea hasn’t left my mind since.  In recent years, Senge has increasingly become concerned with large-scale societal change for global sustainability. In his talk at the Summer Institute he presented eight different groups or sites from around the world, which embody the types of change in human systems –  in education, community development, and business –  that he envisages.

One of these is URDT, which trains people who live on less than $1 per day to take a visionary, entrepreneurial approach to developing their own lives, families and communities. Starting around 1985, Ugandans from the area, Kibaale District, started attending leadership courses taught by Senge in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a few years reports started coming back of significant local economic development. Today it is the most prosperous region of Uganda. URDT was among the first to realize the importance of education for girls, a major mind shift. In 2006, the African Rural University (for Women) opened its doors.

The next thing I would like to know is how successful URDT really is. Has Kibaale District really been turned around as a result of its activities and so on? Where does the systems thinking come in? Are there any lessons to be learned for West African irrigation development? A recent message from an unbiased visitor brings out one lesson: there is no substitute for dedicated, visionary leadership. Well, that’s my first post, hope you like it. As for me, I was happy to learn that there is an intricate link between leadership and systems thinking, both in Western business and in African rural development. So the Fifth Discipline approach is indeed already applied in the developing world, and successfully too, or so it would seem!

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About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see https://csl4d.wordpress.com/ or http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html
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