Societal Platform Thinking: Catalyzing Ecosystems to Resolve Societal Challenges
Welcome to Sea Change, a show about societal change in the digital age and how to make a bigger, faster and more inclusive impact in the world we live in.
Co-produced by Societal Platform and Vakku Sea Change is produced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic ♫ HOW TO LISTEN Subscribe to the show through Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or Pocketcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Welcome to Sea Change, a show about societal change in the digital age and how to make a bigger, faster and more inclusive impact in the world we live in.Listen Now
Episode 1: Another way of seeing
In this first episode of Sea Change, “Another way of seeing”, we speak to a group of people who set audacious goals, like transforming how children learn, how people access capital, or healthcare - but they don’t believe in focusing only on solutions. They believe that societal problems can also be addressed through approaches that seek a sea change, a systemic change in the way we do things.Listen Now
Episode 2: Not for the few, but for the many
In episode two of Sea Change, "Not for the few, but for the many", we hit the road to see what societal platform thinking looks like in real life, learn from experts about how grassroots organisations scale up, and then meet a group of doctors and researchers who have re-imagined how to bring medical expertise and skills to remote regions and communities. And finally we meet the people building the infrastructure necessary to make systemic advancements in education.Listen Now
Episode 3: Sea Change
In our final episode, we try and understand what it takes to ensure that ‘collaboration’ happens in an equitable way, in a mutually beneficial way, and in a way that respects diversity. We also explore what it means for different groups – governments, markets, citizens and society to truly envision a sea change in the way they think and practice development. And finally, change requires specific types of investment and time, where will all this come from?Listen Now
Large problems and audacious goals We are impatient to see solutions to our biggest societal problems. Such as those that will improve healthcare for communities, or access to education so that we positively impact the learning outcomes of all children, or finance and capital that can transform the livelihoods of the poor and excluded. Decades of interventions from the development sector have made important advances in these areas, but the question we grapple with today is how can we make positive impacts on people at a population scale and in a timely manner? Given that we live in an age where we are witness to the transformative potential of technology, is there a way to leverage digital technology to address our audacious goals of societal change? While technology has much to offer, if we are to truly achieve these audacious goals, we require a new way of thinking, a systemic approach that can bring the work of governments, markets and society, or samaaj, sarkaar and bazaar, together. The problem of scarce resources Social problems are complex, they are dynamic, and many a times, they grow faster than our ability to solve them. People across the civil society, public, and private sectors, have been trying to make a significant difference to these problems, but this work often happens without access to resources than can amplify each of their efforts in ways that create a combined impact. Each of these actors often work without the support of a much needed additional actor’s strengths, such as when an NGO doing great work in a small village needs the backing of the government to expand its activities and affect more villages, or when an idea incubated within a small company needs funding to test out its potential. The question of achieving societal change at scale begins by questioning how we think about each actor in a network of actors committed to a common goal? What is required to amplify their efforts? How do we align their objectives? And how do you make each imagine large-scale possibilities? Societal Platform Thinking offers an opportunity to explore how to catalyse this ecosystem of well intentioned actors, so that the resources they need can be accessed more easily from within the system. Societal Platform Thinking Societal Platform Thinking posits a reimagining of social change through a systemic approach that brings the government, society and the market together. It is based on the following elements: shared infrastructure; co-creating in context: network of networks; minimalistic design; and empowerment through data. The first layer of a Societal Platform is the technology layer, which operates as an open shared, foundational infrastructure. Digital platforms inherently bring certain capabilities, a way to leverage scarce resources such as the ability to catalyse networks, to connect marketplaces and connect suppliers and buyers. Societal Platform Thinking proposes that the infrastructure operate as an open, public good, one that can be built upon to serve the interests and needs of different players. One of the biggest critiques of scaled models to solving social issues is that they are too prescriptive and hard to adapt to local contexts and diverse conditions. Societal Platform Thinking proposes a foundation for collaboration and co-creation between various actors across the platform’s network, so that solutions are not only more appropriate but also allow for choice. By distributing the ability to solve problems amongst various types of entities within the platform, the approach enables solutions to be created that can serve a wide range and number of people and communities at a time. This is critical when attempting to solve social problems as…
Reimagining Scale for Societal Transformation
When it comes to scale, many organisations struggle to grow their impact beyond a certain threshold. This is particularly the case for organisations trying to find solutions to deep-rooted and fundamental societal issues such as education, healthcare, financial inclusion, water, sanitation and sustainable livelihoods . How do we get innovations to grow, reach more people, and to make a greater impact for diverse contexts? The traditional way of doing things are fraught with challenges and can get resource intensive. For example, many struggle to convert individual stories of transformation into scalable models, or even find working alongside new technologies a challenge, and many face resistance when trying to make them work for diverse local contexts. Scale is a hard nut to crack – more so, if one is looking to scale at a national level, or population scale. Ankur Vora, who heads the Strategy and Innovation team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation explains. “Often when we do things, we do them village by village, or community by community, and it works in that setting… and the scaling conversation comes as an afterthought… and that does not work because then the solutions developed are very locally designed and require a fair amount of local customisation and local capacity.” Or, solutions are top down, and often with centrally produced and centrally innovated solutions, there are distribution problems. Without addressing these ‘failures’ it is very hard for any solution to scale. Isabel Guerrero, from IMAGO, an organisation that helps grassroots organisations scale their impact, tells us that there are three ways that organisations can scale: Firstly, they can simply grow in size, as many organisations across the world have (think of BRAC in Bangladesh, which reaches over 135 million people today). Or organisations can build replicable models, like many organisations working in microfinance have. The third way – and this is perhaps the most sustainable – is where organisations collaborate with each other and build networks that life the entire system up. The third way of scaling, building networks by collaborating with various stakeholders in the ecosystem, could prove to be more apt for organizations looking to scale at a national level. “The places where we have gotten these things right are the places where we’ve thought about scale right from the beginning, where we’ve thought about a platform that connects the solution side with the local demand, capacity and customization side and when we end up doing things like that it works,” Ankur adds. In other works, thinking about ‘what works at scale’ at the starting point rather than ‘scaling what works’ as an afterthought. In order to reach population scale, leveraging technology to bring in platform perspectives has the potential to devise interoperable solutions that can be locally customised. This would mean that individual organisations would achieve scale, while shifting the entire environment, and engendering systemic change. Reducing Frictions to Scale: Societal Platform thinking probes us to relook at the way we think about the holy grail of change: How co we catalyze ecosystems to resolve societal challenges at scale, speed, sustainably? It proposes that rather than thinking of how to ‘solve a problem’, it seeks to figure out how to ‘resolve the frictions that cause the problem’. Shankar Maruwada, the CEO of EkStep Foundation, talks about reducing frictions through his experiences at EkStep. EkStep has taken on an audacious goal – that of improving literacy and numeracy by increasing access to learning opportunities for 200 million children in India. And it’s clear that the challenge is an exciting one. Yet, Shankar tells us, for a certain…