Is Your Social Venture Really Worth Scaling?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Although scaling is the holy grail for most social entrepreneurs, not everyone should attempt it. In a previous post, I outlined the key capabilities I’ve found to be present in the social ventures that are able to reach sizeable impact (which can be remembered with the acronym SCALERS—they are Staffing, Communicating, Alliance-Building, Lobbying, Earnings-Generation, Replicating, and Stimulating Market Forces). Before a social entrepreneur gets to work building those capabilities, however, it makes sense to ask the question: Is this venture really ready to scale?

Readiness for scaling first means having a program or idea that succeeds logically. In the language of social innovation, it must have a well-thought-out “theory of change” (or “logic model”). If you have an innovative job-training program, for example, it must be clear why participants stay in the program, how it helps them acquire jobs upon graduating, and what promise it holds for improving the quality of their lives. The pathway to the desired benefit is not always straightforward. Perhaps the neighborhood that is served by the program will experience lower crime rates or reduced use of drugs and alcohol. The theory of change diagrams the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts in a way that shows the pathway has been well mapped.

Readiness also depends, however, on being able to point to success in practice. Once your theory of change has been mapped, you need to search for objective evidence that the positive effects that seem to be materializing from your initiatives are clearly being caused by your actions and not by everything else in the world. This can be extremely difficult, but unless you have this evidence you are not going to get very far in persuading providers of financial capital to support you.

Source: Harvard Business Review (link opens in a new window)

scale, social enterprise