Redefining Our Approach to Achieving Scale


The desire to create social and environmental impact at scale is central to the mission of many social purpose organisations. Their ability to do so on the strength of grant funding has become constrained in recent years. In such a scenario, how do traditional Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) or other not-for profit entities continue to pursue their mission; and thrive without the support of generous philanthropic funding?

Several organisations have found an answer in “social entrepreneurship”. They have moved into spaces where societal or environmental challenges in fields such as health, education, waste management etc. are inadequately addressed by both government and the private sector. Successful social entrepreneurs have combined development goals with business like methods to leverage resources and create significant outcomes. They have however, found it difficult to attain even a small fraction of the scale of a mainstream public sector initiative or corporate business model. Impact is limited and the original objective of creating systemic change is rarely fulfilled. Are there lessons here for us to learn?

Some organisations have been able to “step-back” and “step out” of a conventional understanding of what it means to ‘go to scale’. They have moved from linear, directed action based projects to creating impact to more systemic approaches and in the process, have carved out catalytic roles for themselves as “System Entrepreneurs”.

In this issue, we highlight how partners of the “la Caixa” Foundation supported Work 4 Progress (W4P) initiative – a social innovation approach – based on principles of collaboration, continuous learning and community led action – to accelerate the rate at which micro-enterprises are set up and jobs are created in underdeveloped village communities. The initiative operates as an open innovation platform to create a diverse portfolio of “entrepreneurship enablers” from a small amount of catalytic resources. W4P effects deep, transformational change by breaking silos, building shared narratives and capitalizing upon multi-stakeholder ‘equity’, thereby ensuring that no aspiring entrepreneur is left behind.

A coalition of actors has discovered how new enterprise prototypes can be co-created by re-framing questions related to the purpose, nature and ownership of a local business. The coalition adopts signals from the ground to come up with design solutions for how it might provide multiple benefits to the community in which it operates. For example, an ‘e-rickshaw’ model was co-designed within local communities. Women entrepreneurs, who now run the transport service have broken several stereotypes, some as pervasive as that of traditional gender roles. In addition to providing a much needed service, earning a profit for themselves and creating local jobs; the e-rickshaws ensure safe transportation to young school girls and offer an alternative supply chain logistics option for farmers.

Articles in this newsletter talk about W4P prototypes that are evolutionary in nature, such as decentralized information kiosks and a micro credit facility. They offer accessible, efficient alternatives for critically needed enterprise support services. It also talks about systemic solutions such as a digital platform, which will provide a one-stop-solution for micro entrepreneurs. In order to transform local entrepreneurial ecosystems, W4P is building interconnections between its prototypes. For example – entrepreneurs using the information kiosks are getting connected with the micro credit facility, and enterprise solutions on the digital platform are accessible though information kiosks.

Reflecting the collaborative nature of its engagement with external stakeholders, W4P requires team members to go through ‘individual and collective transformation’. In doing so, Development Alternatives is experiencing how, as an NGO, it can make efficient use of grant funding to leverage a wide spectrum of resources and unleash deep-rooted processes of transformation for impact at scale.

Shrashtant Patara

The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.

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