02/20/2014 | 2.5 min |

Getting Serious About Scaling Impact

02/20/2014 | 2.5 min |

Really solving social problems at home and abroad will require us all—social sector leaders, philanthropists, policy makers, and businesspeople—to think, act, and invest differently. But how?

How do we achieve impact at a scale that meets today's enormous needs? Explore Bridgespan research, insights from leaders, and more on the Transformative Scale Resource Center

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That was the question that Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) sought to answer four years ago when it launched the Scaling What Works initiative. As the initiative wound down last fall, GEO set out to assemble some of the best thinking that has emerged on the topic. The results appear in the spring issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review as a 24 page supplement, Smarter Philanthropy for Greater Impact: Rethinking How Grantmakers Support Scale.

It features articles from a diverse set of leading thinkers in the field, including direct-service providers, philanthropic and government funders, and academics. It is notable for the wide range of pathways to scaling impact—not just replicating organizations—that are featured. It signals a new wave of thinking and action on how to scale impact at a time when people are searching for ways to achieve truly transformative change.

Across the articles, you’ll see that in some cases scaling impact is about improving the performance of an existing system, i.e., there is already scale, but not scale of what works. In other cases, it is about setting in motion performance management systems to support continuous improvement, leading to widespread increases in impact. And in yet others, it is about catalyzing social movements that stimulate a demand for change that is often the missing ingredient to scale impact. Indeed, many strategies hinge on a build-it-and-they-will-come belief that rarely works.

In the supplement, a Bridgespan colleague and I describe nine emerging pathways to take “what works” in the social sector to a truly transformative scale. These are pathways that sector leaders have begun to explore as they strive to redefine success. No longer content with just incremental growth of proven programs, they are now working to address at scale the challenges we face. We describe their experiments with various strategies to accomplish that in both domestic and global settings, note challenges that have emerged, and share a few cross-cutting observations that apply across several of the various strategies.

Many important voices are included in the supplement: Katie Merrow of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; Patrick T. McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund; Carla Javits, president and CEO of REDF; Daniel Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools; Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment; Nancy Roob, president and CEO of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; Jane Wei-Skillern of the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Kathleen Enright, GEO’s CEO, and Lori Bartczak, GEO’s vice president of programs.

The articles in the supplement are sure to spark new ideas and advance our collective thinking about how to truly scale what works. I urge you to make time to take it all in. You won’t be disappointed.

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