The definition of platform is often in the eye of the beholder, as sated by Peter Coffee, VP for Strategic Research at Salesforce, "ask 5 industry experts to define a 'platform business,' probably get eight or more answers". For some, a platform business has a strong relationship with technology. For others, it is related to a network effect amplifying messages or sales.
However, a platform business is a broader concept. According to Jeroen Herman, Manager in Deloitte Switzerland, "a platform business is a business model (not a technology infrastructure) that focuses on helping to facilitate interactions across a large number of participants. These interactions could take the form of short-term transactions like connecting buyers and sellers, or they could involve the formation of longer-term social relationships, longer-term collaboration to achieve a shared outcome, or sustained efforts to accelerate performance improvement of participants by helping them to learn faster together".
Hence, the platform approach has changed the way organizations create and capture value, because it is done through the facilitation of connections, capabilities, and learnings rather than owing a means of production. The world of development is not a stranger to this approach, and UNDP is paving its way towards a platform-based direction.
A platform-based direction is a unique offering and a new culture for UNDP. According to UNDP's latest annual report, one of its biggest challenges is to navigate complexity better by identifying unusual partnerships, tapping into under the radar learnings, and joining the dots across sectors, communities, and countries. A platform-based approach allows UNDP to facilitate and integrate new ways of knowledge, technologies, data, capabilities, and partnerships, while evenly distributing the responsibilities and human rights enablers towards the most vulnerable groups and the safekeeping of our planet among the platform participants.
Life Helmets: an applied platform-based approach in Colombia
Maintaining physical distancing while enabling economic activity is the challenge, where people learn how to cohabitate with the virus in this new reality. The infection of COVID-19 happens when a contaminated particle gets in contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth of a non-infected person. A contaminated particle may contact our face either by infected droplets expelled by a third person or by our own hands having touched an infected surface. Thus, a nation-wide contest activating the ecosystem -Vice-presidency of Colombia, the Colombian Industrial Association, the Colombian Plastic Association, the Makers Community, and EAN University- led to the open design of completely closed face shields that prevent cross-infection and self-infection by restraining access through cheeks and chin to the face.
According to work done with the Danish Design Centre, UNDP's platform way of working requires addressing governance issues; proper managers and leaders leading the way; and enabling collective knowledge to improve UNDP's impact in the development landscape. Life Helmets has transcended a nation-wide contest and intends to become a platform-based strategy in Colombia.
1. Platform governance model
A platform governance model
enables UNDP to identify non-traditional partners, create better
outcomes, and achieve higher quality development solutions by activating
networks and orchestrating more and different resources.
the Accelerator Lab (AccLab) designed the Life Helmets contest,
articulating a diverse group of stakeholders into a unique platform was
one of our main goals. Life Helmets allowed UNDP to connect the dots
between sectors with different ways of thinking and doing, which
typically would not work together, but Life Helmets managed to unite
under a common purpose: maintaining physical distancing during the
COVID19 crisis while enabling economic activity to reactivate.
Life Helmets became a multi-stakeholder platform, where each partner played a key role:
The National Government brought legitimacy into the platform by
incorporating the use of closed face shields into our daily routines.
The academy brought rigorous research capabilities by reaching
students and the educational ecosystem in general to create appropriate
• The industry brought its production and scalability
capacities into the platform by producing Life Helmets with all the
technical requirements in a shorter time and on a massive scale.
The grassroots innovators and “Makers” brought efficiency and
creativity into the platform by designing and testing different closed
face shield prototypes.
The platform approach brought
acceleration into each stage. Makers would build prototypes that would
lead designers, companies and students to be inspired and multiply and
revisit new models. Industry would move from there to producing at scale
in no time. The Government could create the enabling conditions from
the beginning. All these elements moved smoothly and went from an idea
to an industry adaptation in 8 weeks.
This platform is becoming
more robust with new allies bringing something into it (e.g., Yale
University, Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and
Certifications, National Health Institution, National Agency of Public
Procurement, digital communications private companies).
2. Organizational managers and leaders
shift towards a platform way of working needs managers and leaders that
enable the organization to explore problems, challenging their own
assumptions, and prototyping new solutions.
At the beginning of
March, when little was known about the COVID-19 contagious channels, and
when thinking about a different strategy than the lockdown was
unthinkable, the AccLab, led by our Deputy Resident Representative,
Alejandro Pacheco, approached the situation from a different
The central hypothesis is that people's protection
from the virus only depends on the face/head isolation, as it protects
people from infected droplets expelled by a third person or from our own
hands after having touched a contaminated surface. So, how about we use
collective intelligence to openly and massively design and produce
closed face shields to achieve physical distancing in a hostile
environment like that of COVID-19 without the need for confinement at
Life Helmets platform was born from the uncertainty of a
complex problem such as COVID-19; from challenging the assumption of the
lockdown as the best strategy for a high poverty and informality rate
country like Colombia; and from the need to prototype closed and safe
face shields as a sustainable health and economical solution, involving
the creation of new habits and behaviors. Hence, UNDP saw an
opportunity, onboarded key stakeholders, and has led the platform-based
3. Enabling collective intelligence to improve impact
platform-based approach requires new ways of working and learning,
especially in this high-level interconnectedness, uncertainty, and
complexity the world is facing.
UNDP struggles to embed
learning-oriented ways of working in their daily practices. The AccLabs
are part of UNDP's broader efforts to expand the way the organization
invests, thinks about, and delivers development solutions, where
learning by doing approaches are most in need. The platform-based way of
working leverages the collective intelligence of diverse stakeholders,
so portfolios of experiments can be tested, and learnings of what works
and what doesn't work can be used to scale suitable solutions for the
XXI century challenges.
Life Helmets is a collective
intelligence exercise where ideas and capabilities from entrepreneurs,
academia, industry, Government and grassroots innovators where summoned.
The winning designs are developed, produced, and distributed hand in
hand with the winners, UNDP, and our partners in an open-source scheme. A
marketplace was launched where the producing companies of face shields
can sell helmets that meet the established technical requirements, and
the companies in need of the closed face shields can buy or even donate
them. Thus, the Life Helmets platform is only worth it if we activate an
ecosystem of players designing, researching, certificating, producing,
and distributing the face shields, where inclusive new markets are
This open, daily, and collective learning processes
have given the platform the chance to learn from multiple stakeholders;
it has acquired an international relevance where Peru is replicating the
model; and it has position UNDP Colombia as a critical player in the
COVID-19 crisis response and economic recovery.
applies a platform-based approach in Colombia. However, improvements are
continually taking place, such as strengthening it in terms of
self-governance, the involvement of more risk-taker leaders within the
different platform stakeholders, and a constant and applied collective
learning to increase our impact.
Accelerator Lab Colombia
Know the Market place here.