An Interview with Fritjof by Leonardo Vietri – on Capra Course and the Alumni Network

This blogpost is a translation of an original article written in Italian of an interview with Fritjof by Leonardo Vietri, one of our Capra Course Alumni. Leonardo took part in the Spring Edition of Capra Course in 2016, and has also been very active in the Alumni Network attending in-person Alumni gatherings. Leonardo is a cultural journalist and communicator, and in his words, he is “looking for the common ground between all of us”.

Leonardo got in touch with the team at Capra Course and drafted a series of questions to ask Fritjof about a whole range of topics – the Systems View of Life, systems thinking to tackle modern-day challenges, Capra Course, teaching youth about global challenges, and the systems view of life showing up in education, politics and organisations worldwide. The interview is packed with resources, and stories about the experience of taking the systems view of life out into the world, and how Capra Course came into being. It’s a fascinating interview.

The original interview in Italian can be found on the Italia Che Cambia website, here: Leonardo tell us this is one of the most read Italian webmagazines focused on transition movements and good news.

We hope you enjoy the interview, and look forward to hearing what you think!


When did the idea to transform the book “The Systems View of Life” into an online course come to your mind?

When our textbook was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014, Luisi and I made several presentations organized by bookstores, NGOs, and universities. In my presentations to professors at university departments I always expressed my hope that the systems view of life would be integrated into their teaching at various levels. To my surprise, I encountered quite a bit of hesitation even among professors who loved the book. The reason was that the systems view of life is inherently multidisciplinary, and they found it difficult to teach it within the fragmented structures of most of our universities. This gave me the idea, early on in 2014, to offer a model course online to show how this material can be taught in a proper multidiciplinary way. This was the origin of the idea. In addition, I realized that with an online course I could reach a very large audience, and that it would help me to reduce my travel and lecture schedule, which is becoming important as I get older.

Which characteristics of systems thinking should we adopt to handle the main
challenges of today’s world?

Systems thinking (which means thinking in terms of relationships and patterns) makes us aware of the fact that the main challenges of today’s world — energy, economics, climate change, inequality —are all interconnected and interdependent. They are systemic problems that require corresponding systemic solutions. The Capra Course gives participants the conceptual tools to understand the nature of our systemic problems and to recognize the systemic solutions that are being developed by individuals and organizations around the world.

To whom is the Capra Course addressed?

In the two years that I have been teaching the course, my experience has been that the participants not only come from many countries around the world (over 50 countries so far), but also from all walks of life. Many of them are scientists, but others are artists, designers, business managers, teachers, organic farmers, doctors, nurses, and so on. Many are in their thirties and forties; then there are quite a few younger students; and there have also been several older, retired people. What they all have in common is an awareness, to various degrees, of the now emerging systems view of life, and a strong desire to improve their knowledge and apply it in the areas they work in.

Which names of scientists or research centers would you suggest to the young people of today who want to have a clear vision of how the scientific paradigm is evolving?

For names of individual scientists I would recommend our textbook, “The Systems View of Life,” which cites and discusses the works of a large number of those scientists. There are still not very many organizations that teach systems thinking, but there are a few I can recommend.

In the UK, I would mention Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies; and the Centre for Systems Studies at the University of Hull. In Norway, there is a Masters program in ecological economics at the Graduate School of Business in Bodø. In Italy, I would recommend the Centro Studi di Filosofia della Complessità Edgar Morin at the University of Messina, the Masters in Sustainability Design at the Politecnico di Torino, and the Scuola di dottorato in Epistemologia della Complessità at the University of Bergamo.

In the United States, finally, I can recommend the Program of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, and the Masters in Transition Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Which political, social, economic and cultural movements embody at its best the shifting paradigm you described in the Course? Do you think that a collaboration between the different movements that are in charge of a sustainable development is possible?

There is a very large number of these movements which, together, form a new global civil society. In the textbook, I list the most important research institutes and centers of learning of this international coalition of NGOs, arranged in several groups according to their particular focus on the state of the world and systemic solutions, education, economics, international relations, global social justice, and sustainable business. I strongly believe
that collaboration among these movements is not only possible but is already underway. This can be experienced in a powerful at many of their gatherings, for example at the World Social Forum in Brazil or the Bioneers Conference in San Francisco.

In your opinion, is the glocal’s motto (“think globally, act locally”) still valid or has it been replaced by other more modern conceptions?

This is an interesting question, which would require some deep reflection. I am not sure how to answer it. With the Internet today, we have a powerful tool for global action, and yet the strengthening of local communities seems more important than ever.

Given your experience at the Center for Ecoliteracy, when do you think it’s time to start speaking to the kids about the global problems and in which way? After all, our children will live in a very different world in 20-30 years.

The degree of understanding of global problems depends on the age of the child. Young children (in elementary school) can easily be taught a connection with nature and with small communities of people and animals. When they become teenagers, a sense of the broader social dimension of life, and in particular of social justice, develops. This is the time to introduce students to the systemic nature of our global problems, and to the systemic solutions that are being developed locally.

Do you think some day it will be possible to introduce Capra Course in high schools and universities or in local governments/businesses/associations to educate people on a systems view of life and society?

I certainly hope so. My strategy is to expand and nurture the global network of Capra Course alumni and to trust that it will carry my message into the educational and business institutions around the world.

Could it be that our current challenge is to change a mental set based on classifications and categories defined a priori with an urgency to face the complexity of reality with all its nuances and connections?

I think you are right. At the heart of the paradigm shift from the mechanistic to the systemic view of the world we  see a profound change of metaphors: from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network. Now, a network, as everybody knows, is a certain pattern of links, of relationships. So, to understand networks we need to be able to think in terms of patterns and relationships. This is what systems thinking is all about.

Many people are disheartened by the world politics. Could you indicate some examples of pars costruens?

Unfortunately, the news here is not very good. In my experience, systems thinking is practiced best in the global civil society, in some model companies, and in some academic institutions. It is practiced least in politics. There are exceptions, though. Let me just mention one country: Costa Rica. It has no standing army, high rates of human
development, has been ranked as the best performing country in the Happy Planet Index; 98% of its electricity is generated from renewable sources, and it plans to become carbon- neutral by 2021. Costa Rica is a shining example of systems thinking in politics.

More specifically, could you mention teams and companies who embraced programmatically the systems view or systems thinking in their projects?

There is now a growing number of companies with decentralized structures, self-organizing teams, communities of practice, etc. Here are a few examples of such companies: W.L. Gore & Associates (team-based, flat lattice organization that fosters personal initiative; no traditional organizational charts), Vagas (a Brazilian employment
agency matching individuals with companies; structure inspired by Gore; no hierarchies; very young people), Mondragon (the world leader of the coop movement; based on a philosophy of participation and solidarity), Ideo (a design and consulting company in San Francisco; project teams; flat hierarchy). These are just a few examples. For more information on such companies I can recommend the book “Owning Our Future” by Marjorie Kelly, who also wrote a guest essay on this subject in our textbook.

Could you describe what is happening inside the Alumni Network of Capra Course, this global connection that you’ve created around the Course?
From the beginning of developing the Capra Course, one of my main goals has been to create and nurture a community of systemic thinkers, teachers, and activists around the world. I feel that I have been successful in this respect. After five courses we now have a network of over 500 alumni. On the alumni network site, participants carry on the conversations they started in the course. Alumni create group pages around specific topic areas and by geographical locations.

Some participants have also organized in-person Capra Course alumni gatherings. I myself have participated in such gatherings in Berkeley, Santiago de Chile, London, and Florence. Other alumni gatherings have taken place in Paris, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and other places. These meetings are not only intellectually stimulating but also emotionally very rewarding. The people who meet usually don’t know each other, and yet they often feel as if they had known each other for years. Sharing the systemic vision and values explored in the course turns out to create very strong bonds.

And finally, I want to emphasize that the alumni network is a self-organizing system, in which participants create various groups and projects according to their locations and interests. Who knows where it will take us in the next few years?

Thank you!

by Leonardo Vietri

Cultural journalist & Communicator. Looking for the common ground between all of us.
Contact at


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Chris Burbridge