A new approach to problem-solving is enabling an Ivey student team to guide a Canadian non-profit organization in reducing the manufacturing sector’s environmental footprint.
The students are applying the systems thinking framework learned through their MSc elective course, Systems Thinking, to help Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) find ways to reduce single-use plastics. NGen is a not-for-profit organization leading Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.
NGen is consulting with the Ivey student team this summer after previously working with the team on a course project earlier this year. The team will present its recommendations to NGen later this month.
“We have to figure out who are the players involved on the supply versus demand side in this industry, and how we can get the conversation and initiatives going to reduce the use and the need for single-use plastics,” said Tijana Rajic, one of the student consultants.
Advancing Canada’s manufacturing sector
One of the biggest challenges of the summer project is to map out the entire plastics lifecycle to give NGen an accurate view of the landscape, said Carol Zhang, another student consultant. As the lead on the Supercluster, NGen’s goal is to advance Canada’s manufacturing sector.
“We’re looking at it from a very bird’s-eye view to figure out what levers can be pulled; what sort of interventions can these collaborations actually foster?” said Zhang. “The process of investigating the problem more deeply and zooming out of a problem instead of zooming in is very novel for us.”
Fellow teammate, Richard Chan, said this approach helped him develop critical thinking.
“At Ivey, we do our case discussions and it’s a really linear way of thinking about the process. Being introduced to this whole systems-thinking idea added another framework, so you start to see the problems in a new perspective. It’s important to add more frameworks to overall enhance our critical thinking,” he said.
In addition to Rajic, Zhan and Chan, who are all MSc candidates, the team also includes Deeksha Neekhra and Akshay Seepala, both of whom graduated from the MSc program in June.
Students in the 12-week Systems Thinking course, which ran from January to March, worked with six partner organizations from Ivey’s Innovation Learning Lab, to find solutions to real-life business problems. The problems ranged from maintaining an organization’s identity during rapid growth, to the future of office work and the physical work space in the post-pandemic world.
The teams received mentorship from Mazi Raz, MBA ’05, PhD ’14, assistant professor of general management, Tima Bansal, a professor of general management, sustainability and strategy, and Valen Boyd, a PhD candidate.
Raz said the Systems Thinking course teaches students to see the whole, not just parts, of a problem, and to look at it from different points of view. It borrows the ensemble model from theatre, where each actor has a role to play, but must also learn everyone else’s roles.
“It’s not just a back-up model. It creates a sense of harmony in working that really propels the performance. We applied the same model here and students were frequently behind-the-scenes trying to get a sense of what was going on,” said Raz. “It was a new way of working – what we call radical collaboration. It may appear as inefficient because people have to get everyone else’s point of view, but in these cases, it’s actually very effective.”
Learn more about how students are problem-solving real-world business challenges at Ivey.