As the social change agents of our time, we keep our eyes peeled for any opportunity to grasp that idolized holy grail of social entrepreneurship: a sustainable, market-based approach to scale. However, especially for many Social Edge readers, it’s easy to let advocacy – the process of scaling a solution through policy change or partnership with larger institutions – slip into the distance.
Consider the following diagram:
The social enterprise is the wedge, driving forward its solution. It has a few paths to scale:
Path 1. The enterprise can attract large sources of philanthropic money to scale its product or service.
Path 2. The enterprise can spark a market for its products or services. For example, Inyenyeri, an inspiring Rwanda-based social enterprise, is creating new markets for energy efficient stoves to eliminate indoor air pollution and stop deforestation.
Path 3. The enterprise can work to shift policy or change national systems to scale its solution. Educate!, the organization I work with, partnered with the government of Uganda and UN International Labor Organization to scale the model of social entrepreneurship education we provide throughout the education system of Uganda. As a result, our model will reach 45,000 youth starting in 2012. Does the educational market have that reach, or speed?
If we look back 50 years to the legendary 1960’s the social change pendulum was far on the policy side of the above diagram. Protests in the street, public opinion, and the power of the people were the social change tools of the time.
A few decades later, the 1980’s saw the beginning of the social entrepreneurship movement and the pendulum began to swing to the market side.
Now the social change agents of our time are MBA grads who apply Harvard Business Review articles to the practice of building effective enterprises aimed at optimizing solutions to social and environmental problems. The tools of choice are market research, product design, and financial models.
Let’s face it, each path has its weaknesses. The market, as beautiful as its feedback loops are, has trouble reaching the poorest of the poor. The government can scale quickly, but lacks those very feedback loops which keep solutions from stagnating. Philanthropic money lacks sustainability.
Perhaps the most effective path to scale is not one of those outlined above, but rather the synergy between them all.
Perhaps it is our obligation, as the social change agents of the 21st Century, to find the synergistic path to scale that hedges the weaknesses of each individual approach?
- What are examples of organizations that have scaled effectively?
- Is it necessary to find the synergy between the approaches outlined above, or is it better to focus on just one approach to scale?
- What are other approaches to scale that are not mentioned here?
Join Eric Glustrom, President of Educate!, in the conversation.