Innovation Alchemy…scaling-up social enterprises
Growth is a tricky issue when is comes to the subject of creating Social Impact. In my transition from a largely corporate environment into the development sector – the definition of ‘growth’ and ‘scale-up’ stood out as a key point of difference that needed consideration…which led to the setting up of Innovation Alchemy, a firm focused on enabling growth agendas in the social impact space.
Of course, creating change and social impact is complex. People are dealing with the real challenges of poor economy, endangered ecology, lack of opportunity and lack of skills to use those opportunities and make real change possible.
In such complex scenarios, when you talk about ‘growing an idea’ or ‘scaling an initiative’ what do you focus on? How do you combine the passion needed to work hard and long in these areas – with the sharp business principles that need to be adopted for real scale.
A PRIA – John Hopkins University study in 2001 indicated that there were around 1.2 million NGOs in India – that number could well be 3 million now. Those are huge numbers by any standard – and in a largely fragmented sector, without an institutional framework to grow within.
What it essentially means is that there are hundreds of ideas out there and lots of passion, being implemented in small scale to try and impact local communities, local issues. Several of these organizations have demonstrated impact at a micro level, are great ideas – and now really need to scale-up and grow for real change to be visible. NGO’s have started to transition into Social Enterprise organizations, and the issue of scaling up is becoming a loud conversation.
As a start point for the discussions is to define the intent for scaling up… what is the focus?
1. Increasing the number of ‘people’/ ‘communities’ impacted by the initiatives? For example SKS Microfinance in India now reaches around 3 million individual customers – poor women – who have benefited from micro-enterprise loans..
2. Or Deepening the impact on the people and communities – so increasing the nature and complexity of projects and the ‘comprehensiveness’ of the impact. BRAC in Bangladesh has evolved since 1972 to be a huge platform of support initiatives that has the capacity to customize and provide solutions to the poor, in a very localized manner. A poor woman in the village can rely on BRAC to provide her with essential health care, education for herself and her family, business support, legal assisstance and a voice in local issues.
3. Or doing a combination of both in an attempt to stay small – but have larger impact – collaborating with a lot of partners in a sort of R&D based, franchise model for growth where others take up the idea and build it in their regions…while the core team works on a small ‘lab’ or core zone of impact to create newer solutions..
At Innovation Alchemy we look at these challenges up close and work with the evolving Social Enterprise Teams in their quest for growth. We apply a very collaborative, hands-on approach in our work – thus getting involved over 12-18 months in working with each team to help them design and develop scale for their organizations.