When replication beats innovation

DEVEX, Catherine Cheney, 13 December 2017 http://ow.ly/hOaP30hjF7t

SAN FRANCISCO — While several people had suggested that Dianne Calvi, chief executive officer of Village Enterprise, connect with the International Center for Social Franchising, she found that she could never remember the name.

“That was really a missed opportunity,” she said, noting how the most successful NGOs all have memorable brands that capture what they do: Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, The Nature Conservancy.

When Calvi took over Village Enterprise, a nonprofit that supports people living in extreme poverty in rural Africa to start businesses and savings groups, it was known as VEF, the Village Enterprise Fund, so she could relate to the branding challenge, she said at a recent rebranding event.

Now, ICSF has unveiled a new name, too.

As of Wednesday, the International Center for Social Franchising will be known as Spring Impact. The organization took Devex behind the scenes of its rebrand. Under the new name, the nonprofit hopes to influence not only individual organizations, but also the social sector as a whole, to consider replication as a pathway to scale.


Why social franchising?

Working in the social sector taught Dan Berelowitz that one of the things that holds progress back is the tendency to reinvent the wheel, rather than to build on what is already working. In 2011, a fellowship allowed him to explore commercial models for scale that could be applied to the social sector. Berelowitz spent six months at the United Kingdom headquarters of the fast food franchise McDonald’s, followed by six months at Oxfam, and produced a report on why organizations might consider replicating rather than innovating.

“Innovations in the social sector are actually quite packageable and can be taken from one community to the next,” he told Devex.

He launched ICSF in 2011. Since then, the organization has worked with 120 clients in 30 countries to unpack and demystify pathways to scale. The team explains that organizations can scale their impact directly, for example by diversifying the solutions they provide or the communities they serve; indirectly, for example through advocacy; or through replication. That could include dissemination, via training or consulting; it could include direct replication, such as through branches, or mergers and acquisitions; or it could include affiliation, such as through licensing, certification, subcontracting, and franchising.

The Spring Impact methodology is based on five stages of achieving social scale through replication: Prove, design, systemize, pilot, scale. Proving means assessing whether a solution is ready to replicate; at the design stage, ICSF spends most of its time working on the model and strategy for scale; and systemizing is where it all comes to life through operations manuals, trainings, or modules. In addition to working with clients who pay for consulting services, the organization has a replication toolkit designed to help organizations identify and implement the right model to scale their work.

Berelowitz said that while a lot of people talk about scale, which has become almost an obsession in Silicon Valley and increasingly a goal in the social sector, Spring Impact is unique in the way it helps organizations figure out how to do it. The 20 consultants, divided between San Francisco and London, are experts in the subject, he said. They ask the organizations they work with — from social enterprises to large NGOs such as CARE — a few key questions: Why do you want to scale? What are you trying to scale? How do you do it?

For this final question, the organization has to allow Spring Impact to look under their hood, sharing the inner workings of how they do what they do.

Jagdeesh Rao Puppala, chief executive of the Foundation for Ecological Security in India, said he became an ambassador for Spring Impact after working with the organization. Since meeting ICSF team member Greg Coussa at the Skoll World Forum in 2015, where the Foundation for Ecological Security received the Skoll Award for its work on village-level management of common lands, Puppala has taken the Spring Impact team to meetings with donors, where he makes the case that involving the organization might actually mean saving money.

“If we hadn’t worked with ICSF, maybe we would have arrived at the same model for scaling, but we wouldn’t have been systematic in doing so. We would have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars. The path that is neglected by so many is identifying the path to scale, getting into the nuts and bolts, and asking what will happen step after step,” he told Devex.

Impact at scale

The San Francisco-based Mulago Foundation recently brought Puppala together with other conservation fellows for a weeklong intensive on “design for maximum impact and scalability,” but Puppala said the foundation does not take the same hand-holding role that Spring Impact does with its clients.

Scale usually involves replicating via others, but most organizations don’t put enough thought into how to do that, Kevin Starr, director of the Mulago Foundation, told Devex in an interview on achieving impact at scale. That is part of why the foundation decided in its last board meeting that it would give an extra $100,000 to organizations that were serious about replicating via others. Starr said he and the Spring Impact team have spoken about their shared view that aspiring social entrepreneurs and big NGOs alike should think harder about replicating versus innovating.

Last year, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship launched its Replication Initiative, in partnership with groups including Spring Impact and Connovo, a Mexico City-based organization that similarly works with social ventures to scale their impact. The initiative is developing a methodology that will help social entrepreneurs understand their readiness for replication, in just one example of how the social sector is catching on to the message Berelowitz and his team have been delivering for six years. But challenges remain, including the growing number of young people who aspire to social entrepreneurship.

Instead, “what if kids said, ‘I’m dying to become the licensee of Living Goods Senegal?’” Coussa said, referring to the last mile distribution organization that has worked with NGO partners to replicate their model in new markets.

Kathryn Vizas, board chair at Spring Impact, told Devex she wants to see the organization do a better job of reaching donors, who could add into their requests for proposals something that addresses scale, or pay for these kinds of services directly. She got involved with the organization after she worked with Berelowitz and his team to capture lessons on scale from her work on cervical cancer screenings in India, as part of Population Services International’s Maverick Collective. Vizas said she gets tired of people asking her whether she plans to start her own nonprofit, explaining that the issue is not a lack of nonprofits, but a lack of resources to help the organizations that already exist do their work more effectively.

At Spring Impact’s rebrand launch event at Google’s offices in San Francisco, Vizas, Berelowitz, and Coussa all talked with supporters about a shift in the Spring Impact mission to support 20 social innovations to scale their impact by 2024.

“Until we’ve brought organizations to this massive scale we’re talking about, we can be credible, but we’re not going to quite be what we want to be,” Vizas told Devex on Monday following Spring Impact board meetings. “One of the things I’ve always pushed, and it’s going to be part of our strategic plan, is we can’t do this all ourselves. We need to be thought leaders in this space.”

As ICSF becomes Spring Impact, it must shift from a startup mode, where the goal was to get a lot of clients, to tackling the structural obstacles that prevent organizations from scaling successful, including by developing partnerships with funders to help them fund for scale, Vizas said.

“What ICSF helps point out is that scaling impact sometimes means giving information away, training others, and finding other means of incentivizing others, be that government, traditional businesses, or other social impact organizations, to scale the work for you,” said Daniela Papi-Thornton, whose work on social impact education has included research on Tackling Heropreneurship. “In that way, the impact can scale much faster than the organization. All this can still happen while ensuring financial sustainability. This middleground is often overlooked, where both organizational longevity and impact growth are managed.”

Not all social entrepreneurs see the need for paying intermediary organizations like Spring Impact to help them figure out scale. Galen Welsh, CEO of Jibu, an organization based in Uganda that combines franchising and financing to provide safe water, said that he thinks the “intermediary stratosphere is overfunded,” and would prefer to see that same capital invested directly in social enterprises. What he thinks social enterprises, particularly those based in developing countries, need most is access to networks, such as private or public sector thematic experts, and access to capital, rather than services he described as management consulting.

Reason to rebrand

“Some of you might be wondering why we changed our name,” Berelowitz said, as he stood before the ICSF logo at the rebrand event in San Francisco in late November.

“This captures the energy of what we do so well,” he continued, before the backdrop of the new-and-improved name and logo: Spring Impact. “It’s about new beginnings. It’s about freshness. It’s exciting. It’s dynamic.”

Attendees at the event went home with Spring Impact tote bags but were asked to keep the details on the downlow until Wednesday, when the rebrand was officially launched. In addition to the new name and logo, Spring Impact will be ramping up its work in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Berelowitz is relocating from London for two years. San Francisco has been the United States headquarters for the organization since it expanded beyond the United Kingdom, and it sees a lot of potential for growth there.

“The San Francisco Bay Area is not only the hub for tech innovation but also for social innovation,” Cho Kim, the first U.S. employee of Spring Impact, told Devex. The area “is home to lots of social enterprises, nonprofits, funders, and other organizations that not only really care about social impact but are now looking for the best ways of scaling it up.”

“I step back and think, ‘Why did I ever call us ICSF?’” Berelowitz told Devex.

Early on, he realized that one of the more problematic aspects of the name was that it presents a solution, rather than starting with the problem. When Spring Impact meets with organizations, it scopes out what they need to achieve the impact they hope to have, then asks what the right scale approach might be. Franchising ends up being the answer about a third of the time, he said.

“Most of our expertise is in franchising, but we look at a spectrum of scale options,” he said. “We are about scale, and this new brand offers much more freedom so we are not constrained around franchising, but can create a service for anyone in the sector thinking about scale.”

Beyond their work with individual organizations, the Spring Impact team hopes to drive change across the sector, getting more people to think about scaling a proven solution rather than coming up with new solutions to problems someone else is already solving.

“How can we further push the entire sector around scale?” Coussa asked the audience in San Francisco, talking about “highlighting the beacons” and “enabling the environment.”

When Calvi of Village Enterprise did finally connect with Berelowitz and his team, she said it was at the time of a critical juncture for her organization, which was recently selected to implement the first development impact bond in poverty alleviation.

“We knew that replication through partners was our preferred path to scale, but we had questions about how to replicate and what to replicate and how to monetize the replication process,” she told the group gathered at Google.

Together with the Spring Impact team, Village Enterprise has refined its vision statement, pursuing the kind of scale Spring Impact hopes to create not only through implementation but also through partnerships.

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