Our Work



Engaging with Farmer Federations to Adapt Systems ToC

Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), TATA Trusts​

DESTA is working with CInI to solicit inputs from farmer federations across two geographies on how climate resilience and environmental sustainability can be enhanced through CInI’s Lakhpati Kisan Program. This is part of a longer-term engagement with CInI to bring a systems lens to their programme’s Theory of Change, which is now expanding its boundary of concern to endogenize climate and environmental aspects while improving farmer incomes.

Synthesizing research on Philanthropy Landscape

ISDM Center for Social Justice and Philanthropy (CSJP)

DESTA worked with the Center for Social Justice and Philanthropy (CSJP) at ISDM to synthesize their year-long research outcomes on the challenges in philanthropic giving. The work revolved around creating systems maps through a participatory process with the CSJP team. These Causal Loop Diagrams highlight some of the key challenges like the generic tendency of overallocation of funds towards one sector and in one geography, the practice of working on low-hanging fruits which boxes organizations into thinking short term, the creation of knowledge that relies on measuring outputs thereby underplaying the importance of outcomes and unmeasurable changes. The report will be published later this year followed by consultations with Philanthropies, CSRs, and SPOs

Programme Design using Systems Thinking

Raintree Foundation

DESTA is working with Raintree Foundation to create a new program around regenerative agriculture. Raintree Foundation is applying systems thinking for end-to-end program design and implementation plan. DESTA has supported Raintree to test and articulate their program design, enable collective reflection on multiple impact pathways of the program. As a result, the team was able to identify information and design interventions needed to strengthen the program. The work which has spanned three months, has involved applying systems thinking to define the problem, program design and create an implementation plan.

Modeling Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) Systems

SELCO Foundation

DESTA is working with SELCO Foundation on a research study to model the different energy delivery systems like Decentralized Renewable Energy, Micro Grid, Grid, etc. to test each of them for their reliability and economic efficiency. This study will create a system dynamics model of these energy delivery systems and generate scenarios to compare their efficacy from an economic, environmental, and social points of view.

Developing Groundwater Protocols using Systems Thinking

Sustain+ Energy Foundation & ACWADAM

DESTA is working on a collaborative project with partners Sustain+ and ACWADAM to model the interactions between agriculture, groundwater aquifers, and agricultural pumps, including solar pumps. The objective of the project is to build a simulation model that can be used to aid the development of groundwater management protocols at the village level at 2 locations in India. The simulation model will have a user interface in which inputs could be given and the changes in the groundwater levels could be simulated.

Using System Dynamics for Modelling Roadmaps for 100% RE Cities


DESTA is working a collaborative project, funded by GIZ India, with EY India and AHA Solar Pvt. Ltd as partners, under the aegis of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)’s Solar Cities Programme. As a knowledge partner, DESTA is developing system dynamics simulation models for the energy systems of two cities in India. The models comprise of the main energy consuming sectors- residential, commercial &industrial, transport and public utilities, and can generate scenarios of the city-level energy transitions up to 2050. The models have the capability to test impacts of important policy interventions and technology and behavioural shifts – such as energy efficiency, solar PV rooftop development, electrification of transport, etc. The ultimate objective is to use the insights from the models towards the development of a roadmap on how the cities could transition towards becoming 100% RE Cities. 

Climate Pathfinders Programme


DESTA partnered with AVPN, to design their Climate Pathfinders Programme. This was the first climate capacity-building program for decision-makers of philanthropic organizations and other grant-making bodies. As part of this, a 2-Day workshop was held in Mumbai which used tools of systems thinking to showcase examples of how social, developmental, and environmental projects have strong linkages with climate – mitigation and adaptation, and why it is important for programmes to have a climate intersectionality lens to enhance their climate action.

Systems Theory of Change and Strategy Building

Waste Warriors Society

DESTA worked with Waste Warriors in creating their systems theory of change and building their organizational strategy. This was done through a set of workshops starting with capacity building and then group modeling. The group modeling facilitated workshop helped to uncover the team’s journey in building the organization and the aspects that mattered the most to them. The outcome was the creation of multiple systems stories that represent the collective theory of change in the organization. This was used to provide inputs for the strategic focus areas for the organization. This was followed by a series of consulting sessions with the leadership team to formulate the organization’s strategy.

Capacity Building and Systems Thinking to Map Programme Design

SELCO Foundation

DESTA worked with SELCO Foundation to map selected programmes. These were Resilient Micro Businesses and Agricultural Cold Storage. DESTA facilitated workshops with the project team members to map their projects interventions, challenges, and opportunities for the projects going forward. The models created from the workshop represented the collective understanding of the team, and thus could be used as a planning tool by the teams for their projects. The team members have embarked on their journey of applying systems thinking for M&E and documenting successful case studies. A similar capacity-building workshop was conducted for the partner NGOs of the SELCO Foundation as well.

Assessing Impacts of Scaling up uptake of Solar Water Pumps on Livelihoods and the Environment using Systems Thinking and Modelling

Sustain+ Energy Foundation

DESTA worked with the Sustain+ Energy Foundation to develop a systemic understanding of their work on scaling up solar water pumps in rural India. The question at hand was related to how solar pumps would impact cropping, agricultural livelihoods and the local environment, both in the short term and in the long term. Using tools of systems thinking and through a participatory modeling process we developed systems models (both qualitative and quantitative) to generate scenarios of the impact of solar pumps on agriculture, livelihoods and the environment. An interactive simulator was also developed as an interface of the model – in order to allow users to change input project parameters and generate scenarios.

Operationalizing Systems Thinking for Programme and ToC Design

Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), TATA Trusts

DESTA worked with CInI to enable them to apply systems thinking into their project Lakhpati Kisan 2.0. The aims of this collaboration were to evaluate the theory of change using tools of systems thinking, build systems thinking capabilities of the project team and internalize aspects such as climate change, markets and policy into the project design of Lakhpati Kisan 2.0. This collaboration helped the project team evaluate the short term and long term impacts of their work on incomes, climate and the local environment. And how these could be effectively communicated to  communities and stakeholders. Through this collaboration the project became more systemic in its design and the systems thinking capabilities of the team have been built.

Identifying Potential Climate Linkages of Philanthropic Work in India

India Climate Collaborative (ICC)

DESTA worked with the India Climate Collaborative to help their partner philanthropies identify potential climate linkages of their work. The aim here was to document how non-climate focused projects/programmes interact with climate change adaptation and mitigation. These case studies, carried out using participatory systems thinking workshops with philanthropies present such intersections between environment and development projects and climate action. They highlight the climate linkages-both co-benefits and unintended consequences of the programmes and provide insights on  enhancing the climate action of non-climate focused philanthropic work.

Co-Developing A Systems Theory of Change

Raintree Foundation

DESTA worked with the Raintree foundation to build their capabilities on systems thinking and co-developing a theory of change of their work, using systems thinking. The collaboration was operationalized through participatory workshops where the team was trained in using the tools of systems thinking, and this was followed by a workshop on developing a Systems ToC. The aim was to help them see how the different verticals were connected with each other and why solving problems in individual verticals alone may be insufficient to improve the well being of rural communities and the environment. The theory of change was developed through a group modeling workshop and all participants worked on developing sectoral models by applying the tools of systems thinking. These models were then integrated into one grand theory of change which depicted their goals, impact pathways and core verticals. 

Co-Developing Research Plans for Generating Evidence on Climate Adjacent Work

Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies

DESTA worked with grantees of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies to understand how their environmental and development projects, incidentally, also impact climate change (mitigation and adaptation) using participatory systems thinking. This project focused on identifying and formalizing such linkages and then co-developing a research plan to monitor them for generating evidence of their existence. Four case studies were prepared, through a process of participatory systems thinking carried out along with the grantees, which highlight interplay between the environmental project activities and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The case studies highlight how project activities aimed at soci or environmental goals also have co-benefits or side effects from a climate change lens.The report can be accessed here or here.


Energy, Emissions & Desired Quality of Life

Centre for the Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP)

DESTA worked with CSTEP on a national level energy modelling project where interplays between energy demand and supply, land and water constraints were modelled using system dynamics . The aim here was to develop a decision support system which could aid policy making in the energy and climate space. The model simulates future scenarios up to 2050, to meet quality of life goals, while taking into account national commitments for improving energy efficiency, demand side management and decarbonizing the electricity sector. The pick-up of various sources of energy- both conventional and renewable energy is modelled based on their costs. Multiple tradeoffs, like improving cost effectiveness of electricity, reducing emissions or water usage can be assessed. The model provides end users with a vast canvas for running multiple scenarios of interest for testing policy assumptions and improving decision making.  The project report with results from the model and model description can be accessed here.


Mainstreaming Systems Thinking for Scaling Up Efforts Towards Nature Conservation and Building Robust Social-Ecological Systems

Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)

DESTA worked with FES on the Socio-Ecological Approaches to Livelihoods programme (SEAL), which is at the forefront for enhancing the resilience of village communities. The project investigated how rural livelihoods are an emergent outcome of interactions between local ecology, markets, local governance, policies and collective action of the community. Three simulation models were  developed, one each, for a village in Rajasthan, Odisha and Karnataka. These were utilised for stakeholder interaction on possible scenarios related to livelihoods and the environment. The project used a mix of community based system dynamics, group model building and system dynamics simulations. The SEAL project was carried out in collaboration with Social System Design Lab, Washington University at St. Louis (SSDL), Boston College (BC) and Shiv Nadar University (SNU). Outputs from the work can be read on our resources page.

Modelling Coupled Social-Ecological Systems for Multi-Stakeholder Engagement and Consensus Building

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru (ATREE)

DESTA worked with ATREE towards the co-creation of a System Dynamics model based Mobile App, “Banni: In a Time of Change”, with stakeholders, for sustainable management of the Banni Grasslands, in Kutch. The Android App forms the interface of a system dynamics model of the social-ecological system of Banni Grasslands in India. This tool— with pictures, model story and interactive graphics—provides a way for end users to explore the implications of potential management scenarios under ‘What-if’ conditions, such as different management regimes of the invasive Prosopis juliflora, and climate extremes (like recurrent droughts). It gives the user the option to choose scenario parameters and simulate outcomes. Through the App it is aimed to engage with stakeholders to envision possible future scenarios for Banni and build consensus on the decisions that could lead to sustainable management of the Banni grasslands. The App was developed through a highly participatory, transdisciplinary process, comprising workshops and iterative interactions with Banni’s community, CSOs, and researchers working on the landscape.  Further, workshops, using the App,  have been conducted with Banni’s community for envisioning the futures and testing decision making assumptions through group exercises and interactive simulations. A brief on the app can be read here, while the app can be accessed here

Overall Project Link: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/PEER/PEERscience/PGA_168070


Systems Thinking for Buiding a Joint Understanding around Complex Social Problems

Azim Premji Philanthrophic Initiatives, Bengaluru (APPI)

DESTA worked with APPI and its grantees to develop qualitative systems models of complex social problems around which APPI had programmes. The objective was to better understand the interactions between multiple social and economic factors which underlying these issues, using a systems lens. DESTA facilitated participatory systems thinking workshops with representatives from APPI’s programmes and grantees from across India. Workshops were held on three themes, Survivors of Domestic Violence, Children in Contact with Railways, Persons with Disability. Tools of Systems Thinking were used in a group setting. The workshops helped in the development of qualitative models which could be used to engage with stakeholders, evaluate current interventions and their impact, better understand potential intervention points and build capacity of all stakeholders on systems thinking. 

Past Engagements of DESTA Founders using Systems Thinking & System Dynamics Simulation :

1. Developing Roadmaps for Achieving India’s NDCs
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2018-19.

2. Climate Change Adaptation Pathways and Turning Points:
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2018. Project link here.

3. Climate Change Impacts on Oil and Gas Sector :
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2017-18. Link to Issue Brief here.

4. Modelling Economics of Grassland Degradation in Banni, India using System Dynamics:
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2016.  Project Report linked here.

5. Modelling Urban Carrying Capacity and Quality of Life using System Dynamics :
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), 2015-16.  Discussion Paper linked here.

6. Sustainability Dynamics of Resource use and Economic Growth :
The Energy and Resources Institute(TERI), 2015. Discussion Paper linked here.

Mihir's Teaching & Training Engagements:

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Hyderabad
Visiting Faculty, System Dynamics (2016-present)

Teaching Basics (30 hrs) and Advanced System Dynamics (60 hrs) to students of MA – Natural Resource and Governance. The course contains introduction to systems thinking, system archetypes, causal loop diagrams, ice berg, introduction to system dynamics, building blocks of system dynamics, making stock flow maps, developing simulation models using case studies, group model building and evaluation.
Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), Noida
Visiting Faculty, Systems Thinking for Social Change (2017-present)
Teaching systems thinking to students of Post Graduate Programme in Development Leadership to learn ways of avoiding and getting out of systemic traps in management of development projects and how to create higher social impact for achieving institutional sustainability. The course is delivered using case studies. It covers – what is systems thinking?, types of systems, characteristics of complex systems, tools of systems thinking (CLD, Ice Berg),  family of system archetypes.
India Leaders for Social Sector, NCR
Guest Faculty, Systems Thinking for Social Sector (2018-present)
Taking lectures on Systems Thinking for Social Sector at ILSS sessions held at Ashoka University, NCR. ILSS is a joint initiative between Central Square Foundation (CSF) and Indian School of Development Management (ISDM) to assist passionate people making transition from Private sector into the Social Sector.
India Fellows, Delhi
Guest Faculty, Systems Thinking for Sustainable Development (2018-present)
Taking workshops for fellows working on various social and environmental issues. Teaching causal loop diagrams, ice bergs and using case studies from field.
School for International Training, Jaipur
Guest Lecturer, Systems Thinking (2017-present)

Taking lectures on Systems thinking and sustainability for Sustainable Development and Social Change Programme which gives opportunity to international students to Examine India’s socioeconomic development trends and how rethinking development is gaining urgency for shaping sustainable social change.