Many of our efforts to find solutions to fundamental and deep-rooted societal issues such as education, healthcare, financial inclusion, water, sanitation and sustainable livelihoods seem to follow a pattern: we identify problems, develop solutions, run pilots, measure impact, and then muster resources to replicate and scale. However, we also carry a deep realization that our societal challenges are very large, very complex and tend to grow much faster than our individual ability to solve them. Challenged by the diversity and scale of these issues, we have often wondered, How do we match the simultaneous need for speed, scale and sustainability? How do we solve complex issues in a dynamic environment? How do we solve problems rapidly and yet respond to their diversity? Can we think of a better way to address our reality?

Societal Platforms are imagined as a public good aimed at extending citizen services across our demographics and facilitating meaningful collaboration, amplified by technology. Societal Platforms are built on elegant yet light digital infrastructure; they create spaces for co-creation and participation by all entities with a stake in positive change – from state institutions and entrepreneurs to non-profits and individual citizens. This idea is inspired by the earlier work of many visionaries and philanthropists. We are excited by our initial experimentation with Societal Platforms in early education with EkStep, and see the potential for scaling up diverse solutions.

We invite you to share, deliberate on how we might design, in today’s well-connected world, a societal infrastructure that enables everyone to do what he or she does best, in a unified, but not uniform, way. A platform where everyone can discover other people’s innovations, where everyone can add to the value chain based on what is needed in the sector. Where everyone gets to do what they want. In the sectors that we are exploring, what we have learnt is that we need to unpack the true problems that are context independent and build a shared digital infrastructure using which anyone can create context specific solutions. This allows diverse stakeholders to discover each other and partner seamlessly.

It is important for us to reflect how philanthropists, development partners, for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises and the state can play a pivotal role in enabling such large scale societal transformations. While much of development capital currently supports projects and programs that deliver local impact, how might we include in our portfolio Societal Platform initiatives aimed at building or extending the infrastructure required to induce large-scale change. Societal Platforms need to be driven by longer-term strategic vision, a sustained allocation of risk capital and a healthy dose of patience and perseverance. A strategic portfolio of Societal Platforms may foster an ecosystem of innovators and network partners to co-create and resolve our societal challenges in critical areas of societal development. Such platforms require the support of visionary zeal, which, once sparked, may improve lives at population scale.