For most of us, participation on digital platforms has become a casual feature of modern life—from purchasing groceries to accessing entertainment, from getting a cab to scheduling an appointment with a doctor. In India, where one of the authors lives, it is becoming common to encounter people in large cities begging for money at traffic lights who now accept Google Pay transfers. It’s certainly true that access remains far from universal, but the overall trend is undeniably one of relentless growth in digital participation.

Businesses, including some of the world’s most famous start-up “unicorns,” have grasped this opportunity with both hands and are reaping the benefit of platforms that facilitate the connection and interaction between buyer and seller, customer and service provider, content creator and audience. The big shift can be seen as focusing on improving the means of connection rather than investing in the means of production. Just think of rideshare apps and how they facilitate millions of connections between passengers and drivers at global scale without owning a single vehicle.

The efficiency that comes with this kind of business model can lead to the capture of large parts of the market and, inevitably, criticism of some companies perceived to be aggregating value exclusively for shareholders rather than for society at large. But leaving aside this important point, which has a lot to do with the original intent and governance of a given platform, it is hard to argue that platforms are not an effective and efficient vehicle for scale.

It is important to keep in mind that we refer to the concept of a platform as an entire approach and not just a piece of technology, a mobile app, or a website. In this sense, a platform is a holistic model that creates impact by facilitating exchanges of value between two or more interdependent groups.

Read the full article about social entrepreneurship by Irina Snissar Lobo and Maria Zapata at Stanford Social Innovation Review.