How to Scale Your Solutions – Tips for Future Social Innovators
By Kelvin CHEUNG, Director of Training at Good Lab
Could how you design and implement your initial social innovation project limit the scale of your impact for years to come? Kelvin Cheung, Director of Training at Good Lab Foundation and founder of London-based charity Foodcycle, shares top tips on creating replicable impact through scale.
A common question often asked in social innovation competitions is: How impactful and scalable is your solution?
Have you been asked this? I certainly have. Back in 2008, when I created FoodCycle, a movement that is now providing weekly nourishment and companionship for thousands of people across the UK, I wanted to make sure that we would be able to scale our impact beyond the two projects that we started with in London.
As social innovators, it is common to want to do even more, so it is not surprising that the concept of scaling social impact emerges as one of the top-priority themes in the world of social innovation.
In the 2000s, when concepts such as social entrepreneurship began to gain traction, economists started to look for ways to measure social impact, and the internet has made sharing good ideas easier than ever, dozens of social funding institutes sprang up. From the Skoll Foundation to The Schwab Foundation, Ashoka to Leping and Narada foundations in China, they put the spotlight on ‘doing good’, offering investments and grants to those poised to drive large-scale impact.
Many social enterprises answered the call to solve the most pressing social and environmental issues of the 21st century. However, few were structured to scale beyond their current sphere of influence and garnered enough traction to be sustainable in the long run.
Now in the hyper-connected 21st century, there continues to be a quest for replicable, scalable and sustainable social impact. Young tech entrepreneurs have created various platforms to share extra things in the household, from power drills to excess food and everything in between. There is no shortage of good innovations, but this also begs the question: how can these innovations effectively scale their impact to reach the many people and communities that could benefit from them?
How do you ensure your solution is designed to scale from the outset? A few examples should shed some light on the various possibilities.
At the beginning of the 20th century, grassroots organisations such as Rotary International (1905), Boy Scouts (1910), Girl Guides (1909) got their start. These organisations focused on fostering social harmony and advocating for the betterment of families and children, which importance was at risk of being overshadowed by other priorities in the industrial age.
To further their impact and maximise the reach of their activities, these organisations were structured to be easily replicable. The idea is simple. Taking a decentralised organising approach, these organisations tapped into the existing network in schools, churches, and homes.
Through training, they groomed volunteers within these networks to become new leaders to drive local initiatives and keep the momentum going. Each of these actors was coordinated by a clear hierarchical structure.
These strategies were of low cost, but more importantly, they made possible the formation of new community networks that would help pass along life skills and moral values those organisations advocated for.
With each organisation having millions of current members and alumni and counting, one could say that these have been some of the most impactful organisations in regards to human character development in the world.
There is no lack of passion and imagination as citizens band together to create solutions to better the world. As I look back upon the organisations that were able to scale their social impact across communities — whether it is the Rotary International, Boy Scouts or Girl Guides — three elements are common and perhaps an ingredient to their success.
1. Empower changemakers
Empower the community and keep it simple so each location can have a sense of ownership. Find the local ‘connector’, often a mother, teacher, church leader or business person with a passion for the cause and let them run with it. Give them simple guidelines and let them give it a try.
2. Borrow it, don’t build it
Leverage existing networks. Each community has many churches, schools, and public resources underused. Capitalising on the skills, knowledge and relationships in these networks will allow you to develop a more flexible operating model.
3. Prioritise relationship building
Prioritise physical connections over virtual ones in the long run. Virtual platforms help you stay connected, but it does not replace real connections. Over the years, these physical relationships in communities will build the trust and foundation needed as a base of support if you want to expand beyond the initial scope.
If you keep these three elements in mind as you create your world-saving idea, you are on the right track to scalable social impact.