Innovate, prove, and scale: These are the basic marching orders for any social entrepreneur. You’re supposed to “go big or go home,” but the truth is that no matter how good you are, your solution likely won’t achieve its potential unless others—preferably bigger others—begin to replicate and scale it as well.
We’ve long taught that those others include governments, markets, and other NGOs. But we’ve become dubious about that last one. Despite long-term engagements with the 50+ organizations in the Mulago portfolio, we can’t come up with a single compelling example of scale-up via other, larger NGOs.
That’s alarming, so we did a little survey. We asked CEOs of Big International NGOs (BINGOs), BINGO board members, and a few select people with a long, broad view of the social sector if they could name one solution from the social entrepreneur world that had been effectively scaled via the BINGOs.
With no hesitation, but more than a little agonizing, the across-the-board answer was no.
Given our own experience, and that of the illustrious bunch we surveyed, it seems clear that the systematic scale-up of social entrepreneurs’ solutions by BINGOs is simply not a thing.
If replication by NGOs isn’t a promising route to scale, well, that’s scandalous. We’ve all backed leaders and organizations on the basis of solutions which must—implicitly or explicitly—scale via the NGO sector. But if that isn’t happening, if BINGO scale-up isn’t a thing, then they’re on a road to nowhere. We’ve let them down. In good faith, they threw everything they had at building solutions that could scale, but the BINGOs, with their massive collective ability to replicate, aren’t going to tap their collective potential for massive impact.
Read the full article about big international NGOs by Kevin Starr at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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