It’s clear that digital technology can power business and that many digital companies have disrupted entire industries with the way they deliver products and services for the better.

But can technology be part of solving social issues as well as business ones? Can it disrupt models of organizations where progress on social issues has been made? In the last three decades, for example, the rate of poverty across the globe has been cut by 50%. There have been significant increases in life expectancy, and significant decreases in child mortality.

But, pressing social issues remain. Recently, a group centered around the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business advanced the theory that organizations dedicated to nonprofit causes and social change should adopt Social Change as a Platform (SCaaP).

On the most obvious level, SCaaP means utilizing digital technology and platforms in the same ways as business uses them. Digital technology news and platforms advance distribution capacity, scale, transparency, and reduce costs. These are all good things for organizations dedicated to solving social issues.

But, as the commentators point out, it also means modifying or even abandoning legacy models in favor of the values of the digital platform world. Legacy models typically put the organization at the center of its goals and objectives. Platform models put the connectivity and network at the center. More importantly, they put the shared relationships and shared knowledge conveyed by the platforms at the center.

Platform Models at Work

Here are some examples of how SCaaP is being used in the real world.

In DonorsChoose.org, individual donors can develop classroom projects for potential recipients of their giving. Specifically targeting projects and donors used to be something that only large philanthropists could do; now, anyone wanting to donate can connect on the platform. This has led to DonorsChoose.org being lauded for its innovation. 

The Power of Us Hub, facilitated by Salesforce.org is an online forum using peer-to-peer models of collaboration. The authors estimated that over 98% of questions posted on the forums are answered by the participating communities. The Hub is used by over 30,000 businesses dedicated to social change.

Historically, education has not been possible unless one could physically attend classes and matriculate. Online platforms have transformed that. Southern New Hampshire University is now entirely online, rather than a hybrid physical university/online provider. The platform model, similar to online retailers, makes courses convenient and affordable for a larger body of students, including older and disadvantaged ones.

Some observers have posed the idea that disadvantaged students can create online portfolios showing their skills, rather than relying on traditional resumes. The traditional, linear resume model tends to unintentionally reveal gaps and is often reviewed with an eye to metrics, such as completed education or steady work history, that disadvantaged students may not have. A more creative, portfolio approach can better demonstrate a candidate's capabilities.

The same digital forces that have disrupted businesses and industries for the better are also being used to actively transform organizations involved in social good. Platforms and networks in service to humanity.