Systems Thinking


Photos from Give Us Your Poor/Bridgeway Partners Seminar:
“A systemic approach to ending homelessness”

Everything is interconnected. Systems Thinking looks at problems—like homelessness—as part of a larger system or system rather than a single isolated issue. A system is defined as a group of interconnected elements with a specific purpose or goal.

A Systems Thinking approach

  • 1. Enables diverse stakeholders to integrate their points of view and collaborate at a new level.
  • 2. Shows how multiple solutions can work together to support each other.
  • 3. Motivates people to implement demonstrable solutions that might not be in their immediate self-interest.

The late Donella Meadows reminds us that Systems Thinking models do not exactly predict the future, but they do provide a lens to help us see how different factors (economics, public policy, education, substance abuse, faith-based efforts, population size, etc.) all interact over time. The models help us see where short-term solutions may in the end be harmful to the whole system or how some solutions may have time delays before results are evident.

A systemic approach does not replace specific solutions to homelessness. For example, we know that prevention efforts work. We know that Housing First works and that a number of other specific homeless programs work too. A systemic approach complements those and other efforts.

Give US Your Poor works to bring Systems Thinking into efforts (private and public) to prevent and end homelessness. We are pleased to partner with leading systems thinker author and trainer David Peter Stroh of Bridgeway Partners in applying systems thinking to homelessness.


“The Leveraging Grantmaking workshop was provocative and eye-opening. It presented grantmaking through a holistic lens emphasizing that grantmakers need to look at systems and all of their moving parts in order to target their grants for optimum effectiveness.”

Caroline Sabin
Executive Director
The Powell Foundation
Houston, Texas

“Systems Change thinking is invigorating! Like all foundations, we are looking for new models that are effective when dealing with social problems. Real change is what we need, rather than “band-aid” solutions. Systems Change offers us the opportunity to address issues in a new light. Particularly in these tough economic times, we are constantly seeking to support organizations that are approaching social issues in a new and compelling way.”

Linda May
Executive Director
The Simmons Foundation
Houston, Texas

“Wanted to let you know that I think you both were stellar in each of the 3 workshops /conversations. You both maxed out for us and we appreciate your commitment as well as enthusiasm for the process and its significant potential outcomes. Today’s session was very relevant to foundations and you were nimble enough to modify the presentation to keep energy levels up and the learning occurring. Lots of buzz after today’s meeting. Getting emails about how valuable the session was for foundations as well as how innovative the systems approach is for them to consider. Our community was able to take a big step forward in the last two days with many sectors learning the same language and concepts for thinking systemically.”

Nancy Frees Fountain
Managing Director
Frees Foundation
Houston, Texas

“I had the pleasure of attending your presentation [A Systems Approach to Ending Homelessness] in Oakland… all that I could say was “It’s about time”. Thank you.”

Leon Winston
Swords to Plowshares
San Francisco, CA

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