Scaling with Government: Key Lessons for mission-driven organisations

Unpacking the key lessons for mission-driven organisations and funders scaling with government from the 2024 Skoll World Forum

At the 2024 Skoll World Forum Marmalade Festival, Spring Impact, Global Innovation Fund and Grand Challenges Canada co-hosted a side event to unpack key lessons for mission-driven organisations scaling with government. We were joined by guest speakers from Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre, Fresh Life, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and Ilifa Labantwana, as well as a fantastic audience.

Partnering with government is a key avenue for mission-driven organisations to reach impact at scale. In fact, sometimes it can be the only way to achieve long-term sustainability and systems change. Navigating this scaling pathway is rarely straightforward, but as the speakers from our event demonstrated, it is possible.

Here, we distil the key lessons shared on the day, relevant particularly for mission-driven organisations and funders.

1. There are many different ways to scale with government:

While we often label any approach to scale that involves government as “scaling with government”, there are a wide range of forms this scale pathway can take. For many mission-driven organisations, scaling with government will mean improving the capacity and systems of government to embed and deliver a solution on an ongoing basis. For others, scaling with government will mean something different: Fresh Life for example plays a number of different roles in its work with government, including supporting government sanitation planning through participation in policy frameworks, providing data, offering advisory services and fostering collaboration between public and private stakeholders. Defining an approach to “scaling with government” helps align expectations about roles and responsibilities of both government and mission-driven organisations looking to scale impact.

The diversity of routes to scale with government also stems from the fact that government is not a monolith. In reality, working with government means working with one or more of the various entities that make up a government system (e.g. government departments, or individual states and municipalities), each of these with their own priorities and constraints that need to be considered for scaling to be successful. And of course, what works when scaling with government in one country may not work in another, presenting an additional challenge for organisations such as WSUP, who partner with governments across multiple countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

Fresh Life Toilet Operator Esther Munyiva

Fresh Life Toilet Operator Esther Munyiva

2. For many organisations scaling with government, there may be no such thing as an ‘exit strategy’:

It’s stating the obvious that whichever approach an organisation takes to scale with government, it will require a patient and long-term outlook. As Polly Markandya from WSUP put it, “It won’t be done overnight. You need to have that horizon and accept that it takes time to reach that scale.” Funders are also aware of this: both Global Innovation Fund and Grand Challenges Canada explicitly recognise the time and effort required for successful scaling with government and provide long-term flexible investment as a result.


It won’t be done overnight. You need to have that horizon and accept that it takes time to reach that scale.

Polly Markandya WSUP

What is less widely known, or accepted, is that for many organisations there is no exit strategy. Although this may seem daunting, it should actually be considered a crucial part of any successful scaling approach with government, as government adoption without a wider ecosystem supporting and keeping that government accountable for impact and delivery will not lead to sustainable impact and wider systems change. Spring Impact recently conducted a research study on the funding models of 30 mission-driven organisations that have successfully scaled, and found that there is almost always going to be an ongoing role for an organisation to play in sustaining scale, even when the government has successfully ‘adopted’ a model.

Organisations tend to transition away from programme delivery into work that supports government, such as offering training and technical assistance, playing an ongoing role in innovation or continuing to advocate for the solution to remain on the government agenda. But the idea that, over time, solutions can be solely owned by a government with no role for the originating organisation seems to be a myth.

3. Organisations should not depend on government as their sole ‘payer at scale’, and philanthropic funders should be prepared to support them:

Many organisations aspire to government paying 100% of the costs of sustaining a solution at scale once government has adopted it. Unfortunately, this seems to be an unrealistic aspiration. Of the 30 mission-driven organisations included in Spring Impact’s research study, 22 of whom are scaling with government, no solution was fully paid for by government. While government may cover some of the costs of delivery of a solution it has adopted, 62% of organisations in the study who were providing capacity building and ongoing support to government were not being compensated by government for this work; for the 38% that were being compensated, government was typically providing between 1-5% of the organisation’s funding.

As a result, even when mission-driven organisations have successfully transitioned a solution to government, they cannot depend on government as their single source of funding. All 22 organisations included in Spring Impact’s research who are scaling with government are still reliant on philanthropic and other funding support: organisations have, on average, three different payer types, with an average of 63% of funding coming from philanthropy. Many organisations cited the additional value of philanthropic funding in allowing them to innovate, and the importance of diversified funding sources given the risk of government priorities changing over time.

As important as this insight is for mission-driven organisations as they plan their funding strategies, it is arguably more crucial for philanthropic funders to understand the realities of what government adoption means for their grantees’ funding requirements and the vital role of long-term philanthropy for organisations scaling with government.

All 22 organisations included in Spring Impact’s research who are scaling with government are still reliant on philanthropic and other funding support

4. Collaboration is a two-way street:

Regardless of where the funding is coming from, it is no surprise that collaboration is crucial to effective scaling with government. But collaboration is more than simply working together; it also means mutual trust, empathy and accountability. This means there is a critical role for individuals within mission-driven organisations who understand government systems and can act as bridges, translating the needs and challenges of both sectors and fostering trust and mutual understanding.

In their work to drive system change in early childhood development (ECD), Ilifa Labantwana shared the importance of not only bringing viable solutions to government, but also being empathetic to the barriers that government faces and providing support to address them. In return, government trusts that Ilifa Labantwana knows what approaches to ECD actually work on the ground, and doesn’t try to impose its own untested ideology and models. The lessons from Ilifa’s process of partnering with government to unlock systems change have been captured in this newly published case study here.

In terms of mutual accountability, government scrutiny ensures that proposed solutions align with broader national priorities and adhere to established standards. At the same time, mission-driven organisations have a role to play in helping shape government objectives and holding government to account to deliver on them. RWAMREC, for example, worked closely with government partners from the outset to design and evaluate their innovative Bandebereho programme to ensure it aligns with national priorities and build the necessary buy-in. This paid off, with the government requesting RWAMREC work alongside them to test scale up via its community health worker cadre.

Collaboration also extends to actors within the wider ecosystem. For example, we heard from the audience that strategic collaborations with research institutions can play a critical role in generating the evidence needed to convince governments to adopt solutions. We also heard about the value of bringing coalitions of non-profits and other actors together to align on priorities and advocate to government in a coordinated way.

Scaling with government helped all of the organisations on the panel for this event to reach millions of people with solutions to improve gender equality, enable access to water and sanitation and enhance early childhood development. However, building and maintaining effective government partnerships all required a clear strategy and vision for what scaling with government means, the funding and organisational capacity to stay the course for the long-run, and the commitment and empathy to be a radical collaborator and partner. If done right, the results are well worth it.

We’re grateful to our partners, panellists and audience for an inspiring conversation, and to Skoll World Forum Marmalade Festival for hosting us. We hope you will join us for future conversations about scaling with government. Please connect with us to be notified when we publish our research study on the funding models of mission-driven organisations that have successfully scaled later in the year.

Don’t miss the special edition of this article that will be published in Alliance Magazine on May 14.

To learn more about Spring Impact’s upcoming research, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. For more information on our co-hosts and speakers, please visit their websites above. 

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