Societal Exponents- Meaning, Types & Value
In Mathematics, an Exponent is the small superscript that carries a big punch (BASEEXPONENT). It represents the power of multiplication. The higher the exponent, the larger the impact. Think of Zeus’s thunderbolt, Thor’s hammer. An Exponent is like the tool that makes every God, every superhero more powerful. It transforms the trajectory of change.
In Societal Thinking, Societal Exponents are tools that can transform a linear growth curve into an exponential growth curve, faster. They are reusable building blocks that, when reassembled, can solve a completely new problem in a completely new context and at a low cost and higher speed than building a new solution from scratch. I tell my eight-year-old that Exponents are LEGO blocks. You can make an aeroplane, break it apart and build a monster truck. Same blocks, many many possibilities!
In the last six years, we have seen a few kinds of Societal Exponents in our ecosystem:
- Open protocols
Technology Exponents: Most Societal Platforms leverage open, interoperable and configurable infrastructure. A building block from one Platform can be easily plugged into another. For example, the certification component of EkStep Foundation’s Societal Platform, Diksha, was reused to build the COVID vaccination certification engine (DIVOC) for India’s vaccination programme! India became the first country to offer digitally attested secure vaccination certificates in just three months!
Today 2.2 Billion certificates have been issued through DIVOC, not just in India but also in Jamaica, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Network Exponents: While solving for population scale, diversity is the answer. Networks are integral in taking solutions to diverse people who need them the most. Networks need a deep understanding of what users need and feet on the ground to take the right solution to the right user. This is a time-consuming process. Tapping into existing networks with a shared vision and/or objectives can give a big boost to new missions. For example, during COVID, Samhita launched a USD 6.85 Million blended finance facility in India called Revive to help self-employed workers and at-risk nano- and micro enterprises restart and sustain their work. Given the urgency of the need, Revive needed quick ways to identify individuals going through a financial crisis, do due diligence, complete the paperwork and distribute the aid amount. They tapped into the networks of Avanti Finance and, through them, of SEWA India. This enabled Samhita to provide short-term, affordable and flexible credit to hundreds of rural women entrepreneurs to restart their businesses.
Knowledge Exponents: Knowledge, in all its shapes and forms, takes time to build and is fast to multiply when shared. Societal Platforms are designed with the idea of Open Value Creation so that knowledge becomes abundant in the ecosystem. Instead of reinventing the wheel, missions collaborate to find and use the knowledge that can help them build faster and better. For example, to build their government relationship strategy for India, ECHO gained knowledge from EkStep Foundation and eGov around their experiences. This helped integrate ECHO into the government health ecosystem effectively. So much so that when COVID hit, ECHO was able to onboard upwards of 500,000 healthcare workers in two years.
The core idea behind Societal Thinking is to enable exponential change, together. What better way to do so than by building upon each other’s work and reusing what helps us get to our exponential better and sooner? Are there any Exponents you can use?
Open protocols: Open protocols are a set of specifications, such as APIs, data models, standards and transaction mechanisms, that allow multiple entities to communicate easily with one another. Take email, for instance. It is a protocol that lets various private players provide services to customers, and its specifications make it possible for users to talk between different service providers such as from Gmail to Yahoo or Hotmail. When adopted by platforms, open protocols lead to the creation of decentralised networks where many platforms can communicate. This serves two functions:
- Lowers barriers to entry for private players since they can leverage this infrastructure at low costs and thus, boost innovation
- Restore agency of users – service providers and customers – by removing the all-powerful intermediary (as in a commercial platform) and making choices available and accessible
For example, Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) is built on the open Beckn protocol. Instead of commercial platforms aggregating their individual closed networks of buyers and sellers, ONDC brings together a range of brands, merchants, platforms and customers. By doing so, it unlocks increased choice and agency for users, price and quality control, increased access to local products and services and supports small businesses.
Read more about how Exponents were used during COVID