Advice for Social Entrepreneurs: Scale Your Concept, Not Your Organization

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he Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business are launching the report, Beyond Organizational Scale: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Systems Change, today at the World Economic Forum Solutions Summit, taking place in Durban, South Africa.

The objective of this report is to help practitioners understand what systems change means in the context of social entrepreneurship, how it is distinct from direct service or “business-in-a-box” models and, most importantly, what it looks like in practice – not as an abstract concept, but as a set of activities, processes and leadership lessons. The report was more than a year in the making, and made possible by the support of The Motsepe Foundation.

“For a sector that has long been obsessed with the holy grail of organizational scale, the social entrepreneurship sector is now coming to terms with the limits of incremental growth,” said Katherine Milligan, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “The needs are just too large and urgent; the models for scaling we have developed thus far remain too narrow and simply take too long.”

Conventional scaling models borrowed from the private sector, such as branch replication, social franchising and open-source dissemination, are inadequate to create meaningful social change for entire populations. As a result, highly successful social entrepreneurs who have achieved significant scale, along with the intermediary organizations and funders that support them, are starting to coalesce around the concept of “systems change”. The Schwab Foundation defines systems change as “fundamentally, and on a large scale, changing the way a majority of relevant players solve a big social challenge such that a critical mass of people affected by that problem substantially benefit.”

The stories profiled in the report follow six for-profit and non-profit social entrepreneurs in the Schwab Foundation network, working in education, health, consumer rights, land rights, rural development and the informal economy, as their strategies evolved beyond organizational scale – extending the reach of a prescriptive, organizationally designed solution to a problem – to systemic scale, with the goal of shifting the rules, norms and values that make up social systems. Ultimately, this report and the accompanying in-depth case studies provide an opportunity for social entrepreneurs, funders and policy-makers to begin sharing a common language on systems change and generate momentum for more systems-change strategies and approaches.

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