Taking a closer look at life through an evolutionary biology perspective suggests that life evolves by a process of diversification and subsequent integration of diversity through collaboration.1 Evolutionary biologists have found significant evidence that behaviours that imbibe collaboration and further symbiotic relations and interactions are critical to the survival and evolution of a species or many species. Inherently, a crucial strategy of the evolution of life is to optimise the system as a whole rather than on driving efficiency only in certain aspects or cogs in the system, with adverse effects on many. Thus a more holistic view of evolution would be one that highlights the delicate balance and interplay between the two oppositional forces of competition and collaboration.

Even in early human evolution, collaboration has always been an essential response to ecological and environmental pressures. The creation of language and complex cultures are both indicative of complex patterns of collaboration practised by humans for survival.2

However, today, its seem that our ideas, perspectives and policies that drive our economies and shape our societies are based on the sole belief of “survival of the fittest” with a misplaced focus on the individual as a unit as opposed to the survival of an individual species.  This focus negates the role competition plays in tandem with collaboration in nature.

If we were to re-design our economics based on what we know about life’s strategy to create conditions conducive to life, we would need to question some basic assumptions upon which the narrative underlying our current economic systems are built. The narration of competition and individualisation have predisposed us to focus on scarcity of resources and the short-term maximization of individual benefit as the basis on which to create an economic system. Life’s evolutionary story shows that systemic abundance can be unlocked through collaboratively structured symbiotic networks that optimize the whole system so human communities and the rest of life can thrive.

This idea of collaboration through symbiotic networks, unblock and share resources is an important aspect of Societal Platform thinking. Societal Platform thinking brings about an understanding that complex problems at a global scale require two major things from us: the will and the tools to collaborate in a meaningful way.

Often well-meaning, interventions are managed in silos with short-term goals set by single sectors or organisations, without due consideration to the multiple facets of a societal challenge. By taking a patchwork approach to solving these issues, not necessarily including the people whom we are solving for, we miss out on the opportunities to tackle the numerous problems holistically, at the same time.

From the lessons of the evolution of life, we understand that to deal with the interconnected, interdependent complexities of a societal challenge, we need to collaborate across sectors and disciplines to resolve them.

Societal Platform thinking advocates the power of collaboration as one of the pivotal components in solving sustainable development challenges in today’s world. By bringing in elements such as shared value, co-creation, public goods and system leadership, while leveraging technology, the Societal Platform thinking provides an interesting perspective on how players across Samaaj, Sarkaar and Bazaar can work together to amplify impact.

The article is authored by Gayatri Vijaysimha. Gayatri is a Lead Researcher with Societal Platform at EkStep Foundation.


  1. John Stewart in BioSystems, 2014
  2. Corning, 2005; p.38