Tales of Transformation.

The Co-Impact Fund's "Cambrian" approach to sustainable development

The Co-Impact Fund is looking to fund “Societal Platforms,” which are kinda like an explosion of oxygen a really long time ago.  (I’m not kidding)

As you dig deeper into Gate's (aka Billy’s) Co-Impact fund, beyond the fact they plan to give away tons of money, the story gets way more complicated.   Co-Impact says they will fund two types of things in the What we Fund section of their webiste. First they will “look to support initiatives that are poised to achieve breakthrough results at a national or regional level…[and] support systems-change plans that are designed and executed with partners."  Ok, so far so good.   

But the second bit gets kind of billionaire-ish.   Co-Impact will “look for initiatives that take a “societal platforms” approach  that use “shared, universal infrastructure that [can be]  used by many others in diverse geographies and contexts.”   This societal platform apparently gets you to sustainable development.  Just like that!

When you click their societal platform link you slide down a worm hole and end up on a site called “Open Societal Platform,” which has lots of cool pictures – including a neat leaf with water drops, a field of dandelions, and a mustachioed guy with a clicker.  (Spoiler alert: he’s a billionaire!)  These “societal platforms” are, and I quote, a “Cambrian Approach to Sustainable Development.”  The Cambrian Period, of course, was the first the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, of the Phanerozoic Eon, and lasted about 55 million years.  (Thank you Wikipedia.)

Are you still with me?  Are the dots connecting??

Well, according to our Societal Platform billionaire friends, during the Cambrian period there was an “explosion…in which many complex life forms appeared …[representing] the most important evolutionary event in the history of the Earth.”   Hallelujah! 

Ok, now take a very, very deep breath…

This explosion was caused by a sudden increase in a previously scarce resource, oxygen, which crossed the ecological threshold for diversification.”   And now lets’ bring this home with the link to sustainable development… “Akin to oxygen, expertise, skills, knowledge, information and data are scarce resources in the context of societal challenges.“

The “Societal Platform” site gives one example of such a platform, which is an education project in India. But there are no other examples. Hungry for a lit review deep dive, but being much too lazy,  I wrote to the “Societal Platform” folks asking if they had any peer review evidence to support this way of achieving sustainable development.  They answered, and the answer was NO.  NADA!  There’s no peer review literature, at least at first glance, to support this approach.  The challenge moving forward, therefore is to figure out how Co-Impact's “societal platform” is linked to sustainable development in the peer review literature (or elsewhere)

And there you have it!  The “Co-Impact” fund is looking to scale up programs that operate kinda like how the Earth evolved when, suddenly, and weirdly, there was a lot more air and evolution went crazy.   I can’t wait to see the grant application (!)


Beatrice Berman