Rafael Marañón: Leadership, Innovation, Systems Thinking

Rafael Maranon By David Rosenbaum
March 23, 2011

System Design and Management (SDM) student Rafael Marañón last January won SDM’s first annual Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking Award, which honors a member of the SDM cohort who has made strategic and sustainable contributions to his fellow SDM students and the greater MIT community.

Marañón’s contributions are multiple. He helped found the MIT Social Media Club and the MIT Student INCOSE Club. He also co-taught ESD.942, a case study approach to how social media is transforming health care, financial services, and other domains in both business and government.

Marañón is an Andalusian Scholar, an award designed to promote the overseas studies of promising executives. His co-founding of the MIT Social Media Club, for which he created the technology platform, derives from his belief that online communication represents an evolutionary leap in the power of people to collaborate. Technology is, he says, an "assistant to the brain" that allows individuals to track their interactions and thereby subject them to "analysis in detail."

Marañón’s enthusiasm for connective technologies also drove his involvement with the SDM website (where he is a prodigious blogger) and the Industrial Relations Committee, where he advocates for using social media to "connect alumni, faculty, student, and industry stakeholders." He describes his strategy for leading innovation at MIT as "learning by doing and sharing."

Rafael, who worked in the IT industry as a product marketing manager prior to coming to SDM, developed his skills in system dynamics — a methodology to model human behavior — while at MIT. He is not only applying it to model software process improvement, but also for his thesis on labor migration management.

In his thesis, Marañón builds a systems dynamic model to explain the key factors that helped the European Union-funded circular migration program (in which workers travel from Africa to Spain to harvest the region’s strawberries just during the season) succeed in supporting Marañón’s home province of Huelva. Through qualitative analysis, he demonstrated that this system helped stabilize the labor supply in times of economic uncertainty (like today), while improving social services for both locals and migrants.

Systems thinking, which provided Marañón with a holistic view of circular migration, helped him see the consequences of policies, including those (such as cutting the number of visas during hard times to create employment opportunities for locals) that had deleterious effects on the Spanish economy because they focused on a single problem, not the totality of the system.

After graduation in June, Marañón will again be exploring new horizons to help high-tech companies empower customers and employees by fostering collaboration and open communications using social media platforms.

Rafael Marañón
Photo by L. Barry Hetherington