2020 has captured the imagination with its promise of being near enough to set achievable targets, yet distant enough to envision transformation. With the end of 2019 weeks away, Mint invites thought leaders to share their vision for the next decade. Rohini Nilekani, chairperson, Arghyam, a foundation for water security, shares five ideas on reimagining philanthropy with societal platform thinking.

Design for scale from the start

What works at scale may be different from scaling what works. Pilots often succeed, while scale-up often fails when the context changes. We have to design for scale even if it’s a small implementation. This requires a technology backbone. We can’t start from the technology; we have to first define the problem correctly. Then we will be technology-enabled, not technology-led.

A unified but not uniform structure

Complex societal issues need creative collaboration between samaaj, bazaar and sarkar. Design to reduce the friction for such collaboration using a platform approach, where each sector can contribute what they do best, and pool knowledge back onto the platform. A unified but not uniform structure allows contextual responses and diversity at scale.

Let go of control, allow innovation

No single institution or effort can effectively create solutions for societal problems. Let go of control over the idea; don’t hold on to the data. Focus on building open public digital goods. Allow others to innovate on top of your own innovation. That is the only way in which we can get ahead of the problem. Missions must scale even if organizations occasionally fail.

Distribute the ability to solve

When one solution is pushed down the pipe, it prevents the discovery of others. People everywhere have ideas suited to solve their own problems. If we can create shared infrastructure and toolkits, it builds local capacity. People can become part of a solution rather than remaining part of the problem, or dependent on someone else’s solution.

System stewards as positive catalysts

Any societal platform needs a bold steward, willing to hold the moral compass and risk failure. A system steward must persist as a positive catalyst that continuously creates opportunities and sustains the grammar of the intent. Issues of governance and accountability have to be managed.This is a call to action for some of our most wealthy philanthropists to become system stewards.

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