How Social Entrepreneurs ‘Zig-Zag’ Their Way to Scale
A recent article published by the Haas School of Business developed a framework for understanding the non-linear, “zig-zagging” process by which social entrepreneurs reach impact at scale. The article used four case studies of successful social entrepreneurs in India and the United States: Magic Bus, Health Leads, Year UP and KaBOOM! Each of these companies operated for at least 15 to 20 years under the original founder and demonstrated success both in delivering sustainable operations and in expanding the company itself.
The study argues that social entrepreneurs’ path to scale is not always linear. One reason for this is that strategies that work on solving a problem at a local level will not necessarily work on a larger scale. The company needs to be very well-informed of the root causes of the problem it is trying to solve and whether scaling its operations alone will address them. For example, increasing the number of homeless shelters does not necessarily lead to higher rates of recovery and rehabilitation.
As a result, social entrepreneurs tend to ‘zig-zag’ between periods of scaling the company’s operation and adjusting their impact model to apply to a larger setting. The study concludes with four implications for social entrepreneurs aspiring to deliver impact at scale.
- Before a company expands or addresses any adjacent needs, it needs to have the necessary resources and an effective operating model. Otherwise, scaling can bring on deficits in the organization’s finances and capabilities.
- It is more pragmatic for a company to scale its operations and reach more people with its current model before expanding the scope of the impact model itself. This still requires additional funding and partnerships, but these will be relatively easier to obtain if the existing model has already proven to be effective.
- Expanding the impact model itself is more challenging. It requires requires building relationships with funders and partners in adjacent fields and potentially new levels of organizational complexity. Companies that reach this stage must already have a well-established model and be prepared for the company to reach a higher level of organizational complexity.
- Social entrepreneurs who want to reach impact at scale will be drawn to follow a zig-zagging path, alternating between both of these dimensions and requiring external cooperation before they can reach a “system-wide” solution for a social problem.
The full article can be accessed here.
Contributed by Maria Fernandez-Concha and Maha AbdelAzim.