By Amy Celep
Each year, the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling brings together foundations, nonprofits, advisors and other change agents to consider how we can work and learn together to scale impact. The conference explores everything from technology to financing and evidence-building to collaboration.
The community of practitioners and funders who attend the conference each year have rallied around the ideas of “evidence” and “scale” as cornerstones for increasing impact. Consequently, many leaders see their path to success as (1) developing a differentiated, evidence-based program and (2) winning the funding required to bring these programs into new locations to serve more people. These leaders do what they do because they are driven by an internal clarion call to tackle pressing social problems. They each see a problem – it’s big! – and they aim to replicate their model to take on the problem at the magnitude it exists.
I applaud these leaders and acknowledge the absolute importance of replicating programs. At the same time, I don’t believe that replication is enough. When you count the number of individuals any one of these organization’s programs would need to directly support, you often see a gap larger than any influx of funding could close. This relentless focus on organizational growth and competition for funding continues to lead to duplication and squelches the collaboration necessary to pursue strategies that lead to real systems change.
At Community Wealth Partners, we see scaling as a means to the end of creating transformational change: tackling social problems at the magnitude they exist. Until organizations and collaboratives have defined a concrete, long-term goal (i.e., the end) that they measure their success against, who can say whether “bigger is better” or whether more money and more cities will lead us closer to a world in which all people thrive.
Once they define their long-term goal, many realize that while replication of programs may spread positive outcomes and is a necessary part of their strategy, replication alone is not sufficient to get them where they hope to be. Instead, they find they must also pursue alternative strategies for scaling impact based on exerting influence, such as advocacy, behavior and norm change, community organizing and cross-sector collaboration, among others.
I look forward to continued exploration with these leaders and others around how we can, together, scale our impact in ways that can truly confront the magnitude of the problems we face.