Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico

Acuña, Francisco, Guillermo Cedeño, Ramon Sanchez, Leith Sharp, John Spengler, and James Ritchie-Dunham. “Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America XVIII, no. 1 (2018): 108-09.

This recently published article describes a very vibrant initiative, bringing innovative energy ecosystems to rural Mexico.  To understand the wild success of the initiative, the Institute for Strategic Clarity was invited to use the Agreements Evidence Mapping tool to understand what happened.  In essence (see figure below), by connecting (1) the low perceived value and social impact rural universities with (2) the moderate perceived value and social impact of the rural communities, (3) the academic knowledge and global network of Harvard, with (4) financial capital, they were able to generate a high perceived value and social impact energy innovation ecosystem.

Initially the rural universities are resource poor, providing theoretical, technical education with low practical social impact because of underemployment of graduates, locally. Initially the indigenous communities are rich in social capital, and poor in the financial and intellectual capital to exploit their wealth in natural capital.  The Harvard Applied Leadership in Renewable Energies Program engaged rural universities and local indigenous communities throughout Mexico, where 286 university professors and researchers proposed innovation ecosystems for 93 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that were developed and funded (e.g., wind in Oaxaca and biodiesel in Sinaloa).

A documentary and casebook detail the whole project, and the subsequent social and economic potential impact of these projects, including 953.3 MW of wind energy, 512 MW of installed capacity of photovoltaic energy, 1.36 MW of biomass electricity, 40 million liters of ethanol/year, 7.2 million liters of biodiesel/year and 9 million liters of bio-jet fuel/year. This program proved that shifting away from centralized-only thinking with low ROIC, for high-impact, economically-resilient, national renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Mexico, think massively local innovation ecosystems with a much higher, more resilient, and more equitable ROIC.  This model of social innovation is particularly relevant in the multitude of countries facing rapid rural-to-urban migration in part because of investment inequities.  The project leaders are meeting now with Mexico’s ministers of economy and social development to replicate this.

Acknowledgements.  This project includes dozens of rural, indigenous communities in Mexico, over 100 rural Mexican universities with 286 of their faculty, the Mexican Secretariat of Energy, global investors led by InTrust Global Investments LLC, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.


“Best Practice” Organizational Forms for Sustainable High Vibrancy

What organizational form best supports sustainable high vibrancy and extraordinary outcomes?  This is the million dollar question, and Harvard’s Leith Sharp has found an answer that works — the dual operating system, which works with both the adaptive operating system and the command control operating system.

Leith finds that the adaptive operating system (depicted on the left side of the figure below) works best when leadership needs an applied learning focus on: (1) intrinsic motivation to enact shared purpose; (2) community structure and relationships; (3) boundary-crossing connectivity; (4) co-created change with leadership as a system; (5) socially supported learning through story; and (6) dynamic, transient, and multiple relationships.  She finds that the command control operating system (depicted on the right side of the figure below) works best when leadership needs an execution focus on: (1) extrinsic motivation to enact mission & vision; (2) authority structures and transactions; (3) division and hierarchy; (4) top-down change, where leadership is linear, and (5) strategic plans with specific metrics and reporting.

Framework by L.Sharp & R.Gutter, adapted in part from J.Kotter, is licensed for open sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-AS 4.0

Leith Sharp has been working to drive sustainability into the core business of higher education for the last 20 years. Along with a growing number of collaborators, she now champions the adoption of an adaptive organizational model that functions as a dual operating system harmonized around shared purpose. This model allows an organization to ensure that structure follows and aligns with purpose, rather than the other way around.  She established one of world’s first campus sustainability programs in 1995 at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia. Then for nine years, she was the founding director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability, leading Harvard to become a global leader in campus sustainability.  As a guest speaker in Leith’s program on sustainability leadership at Harvard this past July, I had the chance to work firsthand with these concepts with her.

When I map the dual operating system on to the Agreements Evidence Map, I see a strong pattern.  When an organization focuses primarily at the outcomes level, they tend to organize their interactions through either the adaptive operating system or the command control operating system.  Either one or the other.  Those organizations working at the development and outcomes level, which corresponds to the middle circle of vibrancy, they often organize with both the adaptive operating system and the command control operating system.  Both and.  And, the organizations integrating all three levels of perceived reality — possibility, development, and outcomes — tend to organize their interactions by integrating the adaptive and command control operating systems.

This is an exciting, experience-based approach to designing organizational interactions that support both the develop-outcomes level of agreements and the possibility-development-outcomes level of agreements.  More evidence that not only is it possible, but that organizations are achieving great success through with this organizing innovation.