How do you do more with less? This is essentially the question that I put to the numerous Skoll attendees that I met over thought provoking sessions and excellent cheese.

We are all looking for ways to increase our impact without necessitating another $5 million  grant.  I personally started getting frustrated at the challenges of increasing impact about two years ago when running a NGO working in the livelihoods and microcredit space in Ghana and Northern India.  My frustration was scale. I saw many successful, well evaluated programmes that remain small. Many of these models are truly addressing a local need but help 100 people rather than the 100,000 or more they would need to really address the scale of the issue.

The other frustration was reinvention of the wheel. Social entrepreneurs and even larger organisations start new projects to address social needs rather than properly researching what has gone before, learning from it and designing for scale. This is compounded by the fact that funders generally prefer funding ‘new’ ideas which means that social organisations are obliged to ‘innovate’ to get funds even when there are proven methods that work.

As part of my Clore Fellowship I began to research practical solutions to the challenge of scale and replication. Early on I came across Healthstore in Kenya, which operates a social franchise and now has over 50 units. I was impressed with Childline India now operating in over 200 cities and CDI with over 800 community technology centres across South America. While studying them I realised that this model of franchising could be applied to a spectrum of excellent organisations I was seeing to help them scale up. As Bill Clinton said:

“Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere. The challenge of the 21st century is to find out what works and scale it up”.

What is social Franchising? The power of social franchising is that a proven social change project is turned into a ‘franchise’ and then quickly replicated. Highly successful commercial franchising is seen all over the world: Body Shop, Subway or McDonalds. The central franchise documents processes and then franchisees adopt the approach and are given support in establishing themselves. This allows them to set up a successful business much faster, with reduced risk, whilst maintaining quality. The critical difference with social franchising is that rather than creating profits for shareholders the aim is to create benefits to society.

Not everyone can be an innovator, but there are many people willing to work hard to create social change. Social franchising creates a framework for these people to work in but gives them the freedom to improvise around the areas that add value to the local community, hence the phase ‘freedom in a framework’.

A Silver Bullet?  The more research I do, the more I realise how much this is not a silver bullet ‘easy’ solution. The organisations that I have seen who have managed through grow through franchising have dedicated years to perfecting the model and making it work before rapid scale is possible.

Scale is a tough nut to crack. I used the Skoll World Forum and Oxford Jam as a chance to run these ideas past excellent thinkers and practitioners and ask if they wanted to join us in finding solutions that work. The answer was a resounding yes. Thanks to Skoll and Oxford Jam, I now have a great number of people with excellent projects willing to help.  I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has their own stories of trying to replicate – either good or bad – and anyone who wants to design their project for scale.

If you would like to receive more information about the ICSF and how you can design your project to scale please contact dan@the-icsf.org.