Shell Foundation: New Solutions to Global Development at Scale?

Business Fights Poverty

Post written for Business Fights Poverty by Richard Gomes, Communications and Business Manager, Shell Foundation

A new report called ‘Enterprise Solutions to Scale’ has recently been released by Shell Foundation, the global development charity, charting its ten year journey to implement a new enterprise-based model for tackling global challenges affecting poverty and the environment.

The report is a frank account of the Foundation’s highs and lows over a decade of applying business thinking, models and disciplines to impact a host of global challenges at scale. Pulling together the learnings from both successes and failures, it offers a new model to deliver cost-effective, sustainable solutions whose impact can grow to a global level over time.

To illustrate the impact of working in this way Shell Foundation recounts the co-creation of four strategic partners, tackling markedly different development issues (sustainable transport, growing small enterprises in Africa, reducing indoor air pollution and promoting ethical trade), that have each successfully achieved scale.

In each case the Foundation’s approach focused upon establishing pioneers – new partners with new ways of working – and targeting scale of impact and financial viability from the outset. By analysing the common features underpinning these partnerships, and also from the common difficulties that they face, Shell Foundation propose three core ingredients for market-based solutions that are both sustainable and scaleable over time:

• The need to catalyse disruptive change through ‘Angel Philanthropy’: achieving scale requires the co-creation of new entities, using new business models.

• The importance of building sectoral partners: catalysing large-scale change is hard and, whether with for-profit or not-for-profit partners, requires “more than money” and takes time, patience and considerable investment.

• Moving from subsidy to earned income: targeting financial viability means less reliance on aid. Growth benefits more people and the accompanying innovation means the enterprises are able to provide customers with more affordable goods and services.

“Achieving truly scaleable and sustainable outcomes is not easy, and in this report, we are not claiming that we have all the answers,” says Shell Foundation’s Director, Chris West. “We have, though, identified some commonalities underpinning the success of some of our partnerships. We have learned a great deal from both our success and our failure and hope that we can help others by sharing our experience.”

By reporting failure as well as success, Enterprise Solutions to Scale calls for greater transparency in the sector, so that the value of wider lessons may be shared more effectively. It also recognises the need to look beyond scale for wider system change. No matter how successful these enterprise-based pioneers are in scaling their impact on development challenges, they alone will never fully address the un-served needs of millions of poor people around the world. This is, however, an important start.

Shell Foundation is an independent UK registered charity, established by Shell Group in 2000, that catalyses enterprise-based solutions to global poverty and environmental challenges. For more information visit

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