Growing impact

Kathleen P Enright

Pamela Hartigan’s article ‘Reflections on the meaning of “scale”’ lays forth a fundamental shift in thinking about social entrepreneurship with which I wholeheartedly agree. As a field we must shift the emphasis from growing organizations toward growing sustainable social solutions. Said differently, we must strive to grow impact.

The focus on the hero social entrepreneur charged with changing the world may be less productive than we once thought. The most successful of these leaders have discovered that achieving meaningful results typically requires combining your strength with others.

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) has always stressed the importance of leadership and engaging community partners when developing successful social change efforts. The type of leadership that the most effective social entrepreneurs are now exhibiting, and the approach that will insulate their organizations against dependence on a single person or idea, is a collective, facilitative and networked approach.

Working in this way requires being willing to give credit rather than to claim it, to play the role most suited to the problem you’re trying to address, and to work in collaboration with others rather than focusing on protecting one’s turf. But in a competitive fundraising environment, social entrepreneurs have long been rewarded for exactly the opposite behaviour.

GEO has launched a new initiative, Scaling What Works, to nurture a supportive philanthropic environment for those high-performing non-profits that are ready to grow their impact. We too hope to expand the conversation beyond the most traditional definitions of scale, which have typically implied bigger organizations and programme replication to more sites. Though this approach to scale will always be important, many entrepreneurial non-profits are taking on the challenge that Bridgespan’s Jeff Bradach recently articulated in Stanford Social Innovation Review: How can we achieve 100 times the impact with only 2 times the organization?  

Through Scaling What Works, we’re aiming to expand the number of donors who are prepared to support non-profits poised to expand their impact, no matter how they go about it. Also, by supporting a collaborative learning network for the grantmakers receiving money from the Social Innovation Fund in the US, we hope to learn more about the power of cross-sector collaborations and translate those lessons to the broader field.

Pamela Hartigan and several of her fellow contributors to this special issue on ‘Rethinking Scale’ rightly point to the importance of collaborative action, including cross-sector collaboration, and the need to build the infrastructure to support this type of work.

To do this well, we’re going to need to build new alliances and reexamine our assumptions. How else can we effectively address the intractable social challenges confronting our communities?

Kathleen P Enright

President and CEO, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations


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