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Ivey’s Innovation North launches Systems Innovation Challenge with Walmart Canada

Oct 31, 2023

People collaborating at a previous Innovation North Lab session

Participants collaborating at a previous Innovation North Lab session.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, what happens in one part of the world can cascade throughout. This creates enormous turbulence for businesses today. To navigate this turbulence, future leaders need to build a systems mindset. Doing so will help them contribute to more resilient, sustainable, and prosperous organizations and societies.

To nurture that systems mindset in future leaders, Ivey’s Innovation North, in collaboration with Walmart Canada, is launching the 2024 Systems Innovation Challenge for university students across Ontario. The goal is to introduce the students to systems thinking and challenge them to develop novel, actionable ideas to tackle critical issues. A core part of Ivey’s mission is to address critical issues facing organizations and society and the Challenge offers future leaders a chance to make a tangible impact on these critical societal issues.

The Challenge is not just another case competition. Instead, it brings undergraduate and masters students together for cross-disciplinary engagement and collaborative problem-solving. This isn’t just a hypothetical problem, but a real-world problem that requires solutions. Teams with the best ideas that will activate positive systems change will earn up to $15,000 in prizes from Innovation North.

Systems thinking: The unique premise behind the challenge

Innovation North has been helping Canadian corporations innovate using a systems thinking approach since its inception four years ago. Ivey also introduces students to this approach through the Systems Thinking course. Systems thinking uses a big-picture approach where the students zoom out of a specific problem and consider how the challenge or potential interventions might impact systems as a whole. It goes beyond surface-level analysis, drawing on disciplines like biology, engineering, sociology, and more to analyze the deeper connections and interactions within and between systems.

Mazi Raz, MBA ’05, PhD ’14, an assistant professor of strategy, will deliver the Challenge along with Tima Bansal, a professor of General Management, Sustainability, and Strategy and Founder and Lab Leader of Innovation North. Raz says systems thinking isn't about pinpointing isolated causes and effects; it's about recognizing that every component of a system interacts with and influences every other component.

“We must develop and prepare leaders who think in systems and adopt the mindset to address complex challenges, creatively, collaboratively, and sustainably,” he said.

Walmart Canada has been a member of Innovation North’s Lab since its inception. Paula Bonner, Vice-President of Format Development at Walmart Canada, said, "Retail is rapidly changing, and Walmart Canada is a destination for innovation. We’re excited about our continued collaboration with Innovation North and future leaders, but more importantly, their creative solutions to better serve our customers."

More about the 2024 Systems Innovation Challenge

Alongside this year’s corporate partner, Walmart Canada, finalists will explore the applicability of systems thinking in addressing the challenges large enterprises face when it comes innovation and sustainability.

The challenge will take place over two stages in winter 2024: 

  • The Nurture Stage (January 27-February 10, 2024) – Includes a series of virtual workshops concluding with an in-person session at Ivey aiming to ground participants in the foundational aspects of systems thinking and its application; and,
  • The Navigate Stage (February 27-March 8, 2024 ) – Open to select teams from the previous stage. Offers an opportunity for closer collaboration with the 2024 Systems Challenge corporate partner, Walmart Canada, culminating in a final presentation where teams showcase their solutions derived from systems thinking.

For those ready to embark on this enlightening journey, first-round application are open and due by 5 p.m. on November 13, 2023. More information can be found on the 2024 Systems Innovation Challenge webpage or by contacting Jessica Pheby at