Key to the entire social entrepreneurship movement is the idea of scale. If we are truly going to solve a social problem, right a disequilibrium, or fix a crumbling institution the solution has to grow to scale. It cannot stay small and secluded; it has to grow until it has changed the underlying system. But scale can be a nebulous thing. What does it mean, what does it look like, how does it happen?
Peter Frumkin, head of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin and leading nonprofit management and philanthropy thinker and author, came up with a model for understanding the various forms scale can take. His 5 Models for Scale provides a nice framework for understanding the broader implications of what scale is and what it can look like. He defines scale as “creating a lasting and significant impact” and defines the five platforms from which scale can emerge as:
- Financial Strength: Scale comes from the financial strength and sustainability of a large and enduring institution (usually universities and museums). Through endowments and deep donor relationships these institutions can weather most, if not all, economic situations and potentially exist indefinitely. Scale here is not about outcomes or inputs, but rather about the institution itself and its ability to endure.
- Program Expansion: Scale is a function of the increasing number of clients served. By growing the number of program inputs (clients) by several multiples, a program can achieve scale. This form of scale happens in one location, not to be confused with Multi-Site Replication (below).
- Comprehensiveness: Scale here is achieved when a set of activities and interventions occur within one organization or a closely integrated collaboration of organizations. For example, when the food, housing, education, childcare and healthcare needs of the homeless are all addressed through one integrated solution, in the case of Jane Addams’ Hull House.
- Multi-site Replication: Scale in this case expands a program to other sites in the city, region, country or world. This replication can be instigated either from within the organization (through franchises and chapters) or from outside of the organization through independent efforts of funders or other interested parties. This form of scale often requires the vision and commitment of a single individual to make it a success, for example with Teach for America or KIPP (charter schools).
- Accepted Doctrine: In its final form, scale does not involve growth or expansion of an organization or program, but rather an idea. Scale occurs when a way of thinking or addressing a problem or field changes. A particular organization or program does not control scale in this case, but rather a new model or way of addressing a problem reaches a “tipping point” where it suddenly becomes the norm.
Each model has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, the Financial Strength model doesn’t necessarily mean that change is occurring, rather an institution merely persists. The Program Expansion model, too, doesn’t guarantee impact, rather scale is about increasing the number of inputs. The Accepted Doctrine model is difficult, if not impossible, to control and mold to a particular outcome. And, as mentioned above, Multi-Site Replication relies heavily on a key individual, a very clear understanding and articulation of what makes the current model successful, and an ability to replicate that success.
I think this framework is a useful way to understand the various forms that scale can take. It all goes back to the notion that in order for social entrepreneurship to be a successful movement, we have to understand what it is that we are doing and how we are doing it. If broad and sweeping change in various areas of need is the ultimate goal, we have to be smart and strategic about how that change is happening and what form of change makes the most sense. Impact, change, scale can take many forms depending on the problem being faced and the best solution(s) for it. I imagine that as the field of social entrepreneurship continues to evolve other forms and understanding of scale will emerge.
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