By Neha Sanwal, Nikita Sahgal, and Luke Albers
The development sector is as active today as it has ever been. According to the Central Statistical Organisation of India, as of May 2015, there were 3.2 million registered non-government organisations working across different settings, contexts and communities in our country. It is attracting more organisations and individuals every year, and even businesses that have historically had no affiliation with the development sector are starting to think more about the social development and their involvement in its upward movement.
While there have been several significant and isolated successes, many of these remain local and limited in scale. At the same time, there are some development solutions (particularly services) that are scaled up but do not ‘impact’ people as they limit their services to a few core competencies. It is often the case that the organisation is not prepared for the scaled impact, as well. The crucial questions that remain are: how can we go from scaling impact to impact at scale? How do I change the system, context and societal conditions that perpetuated the problem? And once I develop such a solution, then how does an organisation transform for scale? What are the transformation pathways it can take?
Within impact at scale, we must draw lessons from various development and non-development sector examples, which have efficiently gone to create systemic change, without necessarily conforming to archaic notions of impact. An apt and excellent example of this is Amul, the milk cooperative. They have completely changed the game for the milk producers and their cooperatives.
Amul, till date, is run by the decisions of the milk producer and returns him nearly an 80% profit. This is unmatched in most other markets working with primary producers in the world. It is a remarkable example of participation from the bottom up, local context and community’s entrepreneurial spirit shaping the solution. At the same time, as an organisation, Amul has a profitable, renowned and bankable business. Here lay the lessons that we can learn from Amul, and take for other organisations working in the development sector.
As development impact specialists, we also recognise the fact that there is no one solution that fits all. An organisation should ask itself: Why should I scale up? What should I be ready with when I scale up? Each organisation has to design its solution using a human centered approach; place the community and its context front and center. What an Arvind Eyecare did for cataract treatment cannot be directly picked and transposed by another organisation.
However, what we can learn is how a Mcdonald’s model can be an inspiration for a completely unrelated sector to train local community members to do the first level of health screening. We can also learn how the economic divide between beneficiaries can be used for the greater good with cross-cost subsidisation, and leveraged to unify one and all in health and wellness. As organisations go to scale, they need to transform themselves actively and organically. They can choose to either focus on the need and be flexible with approach or focus on need of community above all or hire talent innovatively to save costs/leverage community strength or be cost efficient to reach scale in larger numbers. The approach to scale has to resonate with the vision and mission of the organisation.
Raghunathan, founder director, Catalyst Management Services, said the following about the landscape surrounding organisational transformation, and scaling for impact:
“As in other sectors, thinking around scale has evolved over the years in social impact space too. Earlier, one would say, I do three times my current work and I have scaled, but this is nowhere close to the transformation we see and need now. There are some disruptions in the business side that have changed across the world. In the social impact space, a couple of perspectives are key when we talk about scale. One is, ‘scale.’ To me it is about ‘impacting’; it is not just about reaching more numbers, but scaling deep and addressing the ‘whole need’ so that impact is sustained. The second perspective is about the difference between ‘scaling what works’ and ‘what works at scale’. Building on these perspectives, I see two threads while talking about transforming for scale. Thread one is about how organisations (with proven solutions, i.e. they have demonstrated what works) scale up their solutions, and the second thread is about ‘how do we impact at scale’. Many new opportunities have emerged and unlocking them can potentially solve large scale societal problems. Questions are (a) ‘can we design something that impacts at population scale?’; (b) ‘can we unify efforts to impact at scale rather than uniformising them?’; (b) ‘can we design something beyond single use cases to boundaryless and inclusive?’ The concept and model of Societal Platform shows great potential; also, the ‘system change’ such as Right to Education and Food. While we try to scale up what works, we also need to look at what works at scale in parallel – the communities and their challenges being solved in innovative and collaborative ways such that the way they access basics like education, health and livelihood transforms. These are a few of the things that we are trying to unpack and bring out in our Catalysing Social Impact solution circles and take ideas into action.”
Finding any development solution is complicated, incorporating several contextual and societal conditions. To achieve impact at scale, it’s essential to bring together a diverse collection of professionals across sectors (public sector, the development world, corporates and academia). When these groups work together to identify complex social issues and co-develop solutions, solutions that aim to create impact and solutions that help organisations become sale ready, it provides a platform to bring about impact at scale. Working in this cross cutting manner will bring about a solution that provides a more holistic, inclusive picture. Once these well thought out solutions are generated and the transformation pathways are well defined, we would be moving towards transformation for scale.
Sally, Madhvi. “Amul Turnover Grows 13% to Rs 33,150 Crore in 2018-19.” The Economic Times, Economic Times, 1 Apr. 2019, economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/food/amul-turnover-grows-13-to-rs-33150-crore-in-2018-19/articleshow/68674269.cms?from=mdr.