Scaling Social Impact: New thinking

Paul Bloom

How do you scale up an innovative and effective local drug rehabilitation programme or sustainable agriculture venture? This topic was the focus of two conferences organized by Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship and its Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society in 2008 and 2009.

The conferences led to the creation of 13 original papers by authors from a variety of top universities and institutions. The papers are being published in a volume titled Scaling Social Impact: New thinking (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2010) edited by Professors Paul Bloom and Edward Skloot of Duke.

Several notable themes emerge from these papers. A few of these are highlighted here, but the papers are rich with other insights.

  • There are many strategic pathways to scale. What works for one organization may fail for another. Strategies for scaling can include branching, affiliation and dissemination, and some organizations have succeeded in pursuing all three simultaneously.
  • Scaling can have its down side when organizations are not ready to scale or when growth is emphasized over scaling social impact. Two papers explore the problems that have arisen in scaling microfinance and charter schools.
  • Alliances are typically essential for scaling, but establishing productive alliances is hard work and requires collaborative forms of leadership. The articles present examples of successful and less successful alliances focused on energy provision, poverty alleviation, adolescent health, and water quality.
  • The fields of marketing and consumer behaviour have much to teach social entrepreneurs about how to persuade people to engage in self-protective and socially beneficial behaviours.
  • Good financial intermediation can improve the flow of funds to social entrepreneurs, enhancing their ability to scale. Intermediation can help to make necessary information about the performance of ventures accessible, which can in turn help with governance and compensation challenges.
  • Evaluations of social entrepreneurial programmes can be highly informative, even if small compromises must be made in methodological rigour. The randomized control trial is a laudable gold standard for evaluation, but there are less costly ways to acquire valuable performance data.

Paul N Bloom is Faculty Director, Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Email

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Special feature to read

Making small grants: where to start

Alliance magazine