To encourage the ongoing transformation of the UN system by conceptualising leadership challenges within a cybernetics/systems paradigm.
A grounded theory methodology was used to explore the “paradox of plenty” within the UN system in Southern Africa – how the system can more effectively metabolise the considerable latent creative synergic potential within it, to respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Statements from UN leaders call for a new paradigm of humanitarian assistance if the challenges of HIV and AIDS are to be met. However, conversations with a wide range of people both within the UN system and closely connected to it suggest a disconnect between what the system does and what the system espouses – a bias toward “doing things right” rather than “doing the right thing”. Drawing on the writings of Berry (eco‐spirituality), Beer (VSM), Argyris and Schon (double loop learning), Hock (chaordic organisation) and Ackoff (corporate planning) the sub‐optimal organisational performance is interpreted as an “autistic” condition, whereby organisations become “so locked up inside themselves that nothing and no one can get in”. Interactive dialogue with primary health care workers in Swaziland generated five interconnected principles for developing a systemic response to HIV and AIDS. These are proposed as “antidotes” to counteract autistic tendencies within the UN system.
The principles are offered for discussion and refinement through further research by cyberneticians and systems thinkers.
If internalised by UN leadership the perplexing challenges that HIV/AIDS is posing could be met with renewed confidence and hope.
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