Written by 2018 IMAGO Fellow, Erika Caballero Montoya

Gita is a middle-aged hardworking Indian woman, member of a self-help group (SHG), mother, and wife. Her life is at the center of Transform Rural India’s (TRI) efforts to transform rural villages in India into places of equal opportunity. Gita was the starting point of the systems mapping created during the brainstorming session held last July with TRI and EkStep – two of our partner organizations in India. However, what Gita symbolizes for IMAGO goes beyond her central role in this exercise. Gita translates to “song” in Sanskrit; and, as such, it personifies how IMAGO partners’ individual essences come together as part of a whole.

A key part of IMAGO’s work is to bring organizations together to build partnerships, co-develop new solutions and catalyze individual and collective impact. Along this journey, the team gets to experience how the individual voices of each organization harmonize to form a melody. Each organization maintains their own attributes, enriching their interactions with the rest of the stakeholders; nevertheless, the common ideals and core values ensure that the melody stays in tune.

The goal of the session was to explore how digital infrastructure could help TRI advance their goal of bringing lasting change to the 100,000 poorest villages in India. As a result, the central focus was to understand EkStep’s proposition of Societal Platform as a way forward to resolve complex societal challenges.

And soon, the learning began. So what stands behind the idea of a Societal Platform? Starting from its name, Societal covers the interaction between different stakeholders – Government, Private Sector and Civil Society. Platform is the set of mechanisms that will enable us to establish interactions within stakeholders to achieve a specific mission. This is built upon three concepts:

  1. Amplification Networks – catalyze innovations happening at the grassroots organizations,
  2. Co-creation Environments – build capabilities and provide services to build viable, robust and more effective solutions,
  3. Digital Infrastructure – create an environment that leverages from networks and is conducive to co-creation environments in order to amplify innovation.

This means that in order to amplify the impact of societal innovations, their solutions are not centered around digital services exclusively. In fact, their approach is based upon a continuous process through which they analyze the innovations, unbundle the component of the problem that is context independent and build a digital infrastructure.  By choosing a minimalistic design different stakeholders are allowed to adapt the infrastructure to meet context specific needs, while retaining the flexibility to add as many new layers of capabilities as necessary.

As the concept kept unfolding, it became evident that EkStep’s principles were closely related with TRI’s and IMAGO’s theory of change. On one side, TRI and EkStep share the idea of societal change as a collective approach from a diverse range of stakeholders. Altogether, the three organizations share the commitment to develop spaces for co-creation. And finally, both EkStep and Imago recognize the importance and complexity of scaling up. In this sense, EkStep differentiates the concept of scaling up from growth. In their definition the process of scaling up should be divided in the following stages: Pilot/Prototype, Relevance, Significance, Standardization, and Attainment.  Any organization that chooses to talk about scale, should have reaching approximately 10 million people in mind. And this is exactly the path that TRI is undertaking to attain a large-scale impact.

Through these examples we can see how, even when looking at the same problem from different perspectives, the motivation behind each of the organizations comes from a common place. In this way, different elements that by themselves will look incomplete, come together to form a complete song.