One of the challenges in the international development sector relates to what is sometimes described as “pilot paralysis”. If that’s an unfair description of the fact that many successful development programmes seem to get stuck at a relatively small scale, then perhaps we can agree it’s a cause for concern that not enough impactful programmes make the leap to new geographies or sectors, or last for as long as they should. I think that we are missing a trick here. What can be done to ensure that organisations or programmes with similar aims are aligned, communicating and able to cooperate? If a method works in one sector, why can’t other sectors learn from it and customise it to own ends? Lastly, if a project has been successful in meeting its founding objectives why can’t new business and financing models be developed to sustain its lifetime when the initial funding is gone? In short, how can we “scale-up” successful development programmes to increase their overall impact?
I believe there are three tactics that can help initiatives scale-up and increase their social impact:
1) Develop your market
3) Replicate success
Developing a market for your products & services
It’s often the case that when programmes get started the focus is solely on the organisation. How it functions, what its remit is, where its funding comes from. This is understandable but it’s important to also focus on the broader market. Successful programme operators need to understand the local market dynamics and the opportunities and challenges that this presents their initiatives. No matter where you operate, consumer behaviour is changing faster than ever. In order to make sure your initiative is sustainable in the long run, you might want to consider how you mainstream your programme into the market. This means thinking beyond the traditional approach, partnering to compliment your capabilities and designing your initiative for scale from day one.
Take as an example the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private initiative to save lives by creating a global market for clean household cooking solutions. Here the aim is to put the consumer in the driving seat and focus in parallel on demand generation, supply strengthening AND market enablers (such as access to finance). One organisation can’t do it alone, therefore through improved, national level co-ordination the Alliance is able to help the government, NGOs, donors and the private sector address market gaps, catalysing local market development. Not easy but crucial for long term success.
Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
A lot of the challenges faced by the sector are dauntingly large, which makes collaboration across platforms and partners essential, whether it be public private partnerships, enterprise alliances or coalitions of NGOs. But there is always the challenge of maintaining momentum ‘beyond the press release’. Without doubt the obstacles are real but there is very little one can do to overcome them if the directives of the organisation are not aligned with the strategic priorities of all the individual partner members.
Project Laser Beam is a five year, million dollar partnership between Unilever, Kraft, DSM, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the World Food Programme to tackle malnutrition in Bangladesh and Indonesia. It could have fallen at the first hurdle if it didn’t collaborate effectively. Instead it created a flexible governance structure that worked for the many and diverse partners and enabled it to deliver in the field and to show progress. Something we at Accenture Development Partnerships were pleased to be able to set in motion.
Replication of success
This is one of the most significant challenges as it often involves organisations adopting tactics that may have worked wonders in some sectors, but with which they may have little or no familiarity themselves.
Take the franchise model for example, which can deliver rapid economies of scale if rolled out effectively. That’s exactly what Farm Africa aimed to do when it launched SIDAI Africa, a social enterprise to provide much needed veterinary services for farmers in East Africa. It was essential that SIDAI and its partners were able to understand their true working capital requirements before applying for new loans, as well as the validity of the franchise model for its operations before it rolled it out. When a new financial model was put in place and 13 business recommendations made to strengthen the model, SIDAI and funders were much more confident in pushing the model. As of September 2012 SIDAI has opened 25 franchises and plans to have 150 across Kenya by 2015.
So, Scaling up is by no means easy. But it can be done and, most importantly, it can be sustained.
Ian Lobo is a Senior Manager at Accenture Development Partnerships, an Accenture not-for-profit group delivering
innovative solutions with clients in the International Development sector that truly change the way people work and live.