March 22, 2017

Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: March 2017

This month's "Recommended Reads" includes articles and blogs on such topics as: the potential of building on existing breakthrough ideas to achieve scale; five mind-sets that enable Indian nonprofits to scale their impact; best practices for creating cultures of experimentation; and more.

Here are five articles that provide interesting perspectives on how to achieve impact at a transformative scale:

1. "Scaling Out": While we often think about scaling single organizations, Harvey Koh (@HarveyKoh) highlights a key observation in Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR)—scaling impact might occur most powerfully at an industry level when subsequent entrepreneurs "scale out" an existing idea. Rather than create new solutions, these entrepreneurs improve upon existing ideas and take them to new customers, drawing upon skills and contextual knowledge pioneering teams may not have. Through this lens, impact at scale occurs when industries are created or shift, not just individual organizations.

2. "Why Indian Nonprofits Are Experts at Scaling Up": In this SSIR feature, my Bridgespan colleagues Soumitra Pandey (@soumitrapandey), Rohit Menezes (@rohitjmenezes), and Swati Ganeti remind us that Indian nonprofits offer unique lessons on how to achieve amazing levels of scale. Given that more than 250 million of India's 1.3 billion people live on less than $2 a day, Indian nonprofits must reach millions in order to make a serious dent in poverty. To help us make sense of India's extraordinary examples of scale, the authors highlight five mind-sets that enable Indian nonprofits to scale their impact even when resources are scarce. Organizations in the United States and elsewhere can learn much from these amazing examples about how to achieve impact at scale.

3. "Success=Experimentation": Peter Diamandis' (@PeterDiamandis) blog outlines a few best practices that show how successful leaders create cultures of experimentation to produce "hyper-growth" companies. Drawing upon lessons from Uber, Amazon, and Google Ventures, Diamandis notes how rapid experimentation and constant interaction with end users lead to new insights and growth. At each of these organizations, senior leaders have created "experimental engines," structures and processes that empower any staff member to design and implement an experiment. Social sector leaders can borrow from these tactics to empower their own teams to take risks, interact with beneficiaries, and uncover new pathways to scale.

4. "Cutting Costs to Increase Impact": My Bridgespan colleagues Leslie MacKrell, Andrew Belton, and Jake Fisher, with Mark Gottfredson from Bain, draw thought-provoking comparisons in this SSIR article to the for-profit sector's "cost curve," in which unit costs fall as experience with a product increases. Lower costs mean more customers. Similarly, successful social sector organizations, such as Akshaya Patra and College Summit, design interventions with scale in mind by developing low-cost models from the start. Perhaps what is most striking today is the relative absence of focus on reducing costs in most nonprofits—the systematic driving down of the cost curve. This dynamic requires less glamorous forms of innovation—the relentless focus on improvement—but its implications for impact often overshadow "shiny new object" innovations.

5. "VR Film Series Shows How You Can Help Nonprofits Transforming Young Lives": In this Mashable article, Matt Petronzio (@mattpetronzio) describes how the Epic Foundation uses virtual reality (VR) short films to show viewers how 12 youth-focused organizations improve lives. Alexandre Mars, CEO and founder of Epic, notes that "people don't often feel moved by hard numbers" (see this interesting New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert (@ElizKolbert) to better understand why this may be). Armed with this insight, Epic uses 360-degree videos to tell empowering stories that move beyond data, build empathy, and compel people to act. Two weeks ago I attended New Profit's Gathering of Leaders and saw a presentation by Courtney Cogburn (@CourtneyCogburn) about the use of VR to help people truly step in the shoes of another and experience racism. These approaches could be the first of many digital tools the social sector might employ to reach wide audiences and perhaps shift hearts and minds at scale.

You can find posts about transformative scale, including past installments of Recommended Reads, on our blog. I also Tweet regularly about transformative impact at scale: @JeffBradach.

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