Social innovators come with solutions for a better world. Fully aware that we have the duty to create a better world, as is the calling of the proverb We don’t inherit the world from our parents; rather we borrow it from our kids.
In the book “Leaving a Legacy. Grow Your Social Impact”, we provide tools, stories and insights about how to strategically grow your impact towards a legacy. In this article, I’m happy to reveal several insights that came up in the book writing process. Most important to share with you: everyone can achieve and grow positive impact, as long as you are committed to your goals! And: scaling is much more than only the growth of the size of an organisation. Scaling deep and scaling out are also valid routes, that might even have a bigger impact on social problems than scaling up. Even scaling down can be the right thing to do to grow your impact.
Yeah, yeah, ‘scaling’ is kind of a buzzword, it’s true. And quite often, people feel uncomfortable when ‘good deeds’ are linked to scaling strategies. But why should we think small about great solutions that have social impact? Social problems grow fast, so we can only hope that impactful solutions will grow even faster.
Let’s start with the best known scaling strategy: SCALING UP. The typical growth path. A range of upscaling strategies exist. Ranked from strategies where you keep a lot of direct control to strategies where you loosen control:
- capacity building: Increasing the capacity. Doing “more”: raising the production, serving more people, launching new products/services, geographical enlargement,…
- merger and takeover
- joint venture partnership
- franchising: for social innovators, franchising is a proven way to scale. The franchisor allows the franchisee (against payment) to set up a business in the same way as the original. Often the franchisor provides a manual and carries out quality control. This strategy makes it possible for a lead organisation to more quickly scale a solution, as you are not solely responsible for hiring more staff, creating new relationships with communities, etc.
Another way to grow your impact is by SCALING DEEP. With deep scaling you strategically work towards a mindshift. You put your ideas on the line and convince others. Effective ways to scale deep are being exemplary and getting the media on your side. A system shift to happen needs some inspiration. For this reason, you act exemplary and carry out your story. Take advantage of digitalisation that has led to knowledge being shared at an enormous speed and get the media on your side.
Motivate change by sparking the public debate. This can be done through lobbying, writings, lectures, partnerships, influencing policy and the effect of social media,… For sure, government adoption can grow your impact substantially. Imagine your idea being institutionalised. Reaching out to private as well as public actors often requires specific skills and as an organisation, you might need to change your business model so that specific skills and networks can get involved to achieve deep scaling.
A beautiful example of a social innovator who strategically invests in deep scaling is Paulien Verhaest with her flower shop Blommm that sells 100% organic, locally grown, flowers. Blommm does everything to bring organic flowers straight from the field to your vase. Paulien launched her business after having read about the dark side of the flower industry. She found out that the flower industry is a heavy polluter and contributes to unfair working conditions and exploitation. The pollution is generated by the airline based supply chain beyond the massive amount of flowers that are flown around the world, the chemicals and pesticides to keep them longer fresh and the low wages the flower growers earn. Paulien is dedicated to address these concerns in this global industry. Why should we keep buying flowers and giving them to our beloved ones when they are ‘polluted’ in different ways.
Can a single person change the entire flower industry on her own? Not at all…. But, she started to be exemplary. Paulien has a nice flower shop in the heart of Ghent where she sells her bouquets. Also, she sparks the debate by taking every opportunity to raise awareness and speak out loudly about the destructive aspects of the “green looking” flower industry. The impact of Paulien, warning in a popular radioshow the audience not to buy “bouquets of pesticides”, hit a nerve with conscious consumers. Needless to say that major industry stakeholders are resisting her discourse but the cat is out of the bag and no one can simply ignore it. It shows once again that every revolution starts with a single person and in this case, Paulien made a significant contribution to a fair and clean market ensuring an impact far beyond the amount of bouquets she is selling in her shop.
Next to scaling up and scaling deep, I’d like to inspire you to SCALE OUT. Scaling out is basically making your impact transferrable. By scaling out, you enable others to contribute to the impact. Just like the upscaling strategies, the different approaches to scale out, range from control to flexibility with open sourcing being the most flexible and licensing being the most controlled. It’s important to first check to what extent you are ready to give control away. For example, are you going to be able to deal with it if your ideas are taken over, but no one knows it came from you?
If you choose for licensing, you make a blueprint with processes, training or marketing materials,… available as a complete ‘package’ to an existing or newly established organisation at a different location.
You can aswell invest in training and teach others to implement your solution or aspects of it through courses, workshops or seminars. A possible option is the train-the-trainer model. Maybe, you are confident to get your solution replicated in a loose relationship between you as originator and the implementer. In some cases a fee for replication may be charged for materials or advice, but the replication strategy generally has no ongoing financial or legal relationship between the two parties. This model is generally most appropriate when a project, or elements of it, such as a tool or approach, can be easily copied by others.
Finally, open sourcing can have big impact in the right hands! If you are really eager to boost positive impact, you should not be reluctant for sharing your expertise and information openly. Open sourcing is mostly perceived as a simple way to share best practices but the reality is that it still usually needs a proactive approach to be successful.
Outscaling might give you shivers. Why would you openly share strategies, blueprints, knowhow and hard-won years of experience with others, especially potential competitors? Of course you wouldn’t like to have copy cats all around you. However, if you’re really serious about leaving a legacy for a better world it can be worthwhile to consider whether boosting and supporting your own competitors wouldn’t increase both your impact and your market. For example, the Belgian social enterprise NNOF (Nearly New Office Facilities) shares a large part of their strategies and knowhow openly. Didier Pierre, founder of NNOF, hopes that their circular economy model will be copied by many others. At NNOF, the core business is to create circular office furniture. The furniture they sell is always made of recycled parts that they collect from the clients themselves; turning existing office furniture that would normally be thrown away into new office furniture. In this way, NNOF is pioneering in turning a product economy into service economy, since they brought their business back to offering services upon the raw materials that their clients bring in.
NNOFs hope to make circular furniture the new default standard. The legacy NNOF is eager to leave is first and foremost an end-to-end circular economy as the preferred choice in the office furniture industry. To achieve this, a major mind shift is necessary. Customers should request recycled furniture by default. People will change their opinion about recycled furniture only when they see it all around them and perceive it as the new standard.
As a social innovator, it’s important to know when you should stop spending valuable time on projecting your initial plans if they don’t lead to the impact you want. How do you know when to keep going on, or making the call to downsize? The most valuable resource that you have is your time, so you should spend it carefully. SCALING DOWN can be necessary to grow your impact. For every door that closes, you can win time to grow your impact. Find out if there is a loss of focus? Which activities or interventions do not make a difference and should you stop, so that you can focus more on those activities that make a difference. It’s all about impact and yes, this sometimes means ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’.
You see, there are different strategies to grow your impact. Keep looking forward and realize that scale is created, it’s not something that just happens.
Kaat Peeters is a Belgian impact maker. For years, Kaat managed the ‘Sociale Innovatiefabriek’, an accelerator for social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Building a network, strengthening social entrepreneurs and social innovators, sharing stories that need to be told, setting up international collaborations,… are the kind of activities Kaat took on her plate.
Nowadays, Kaat teaches social innovation at the University College ‘Erasmushogeschool’ and with her consulting organisation ‘Social Impact Projects’, Kaat supports impact organisations with the design and implementation of their growth strategies. She’s also a keynote speaker and brings hands-on workshops on scaling strategies.
Kaat is author of two books on impact and social entrepreneurship: ‘Zaken die je Raken’, Verloop W., Hillen M. and Peeters K., 2018 and ‘Leaving a Legacy. Grow Your Social Impact’, Peeters K. and Mohout O., 2020
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