01/27/2012 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Scale of Replication


Social entrepreneurs are constantly challenged on the question of scale up. One always hears, “You need to scale up,” or “When will you really scale?”. In turn, I ask these same people questions to go deeper into the issue, so that they can better understand the complexity of societal problems addressed by social enterprises. The question here should really be: “What processes on a stand alone basis can be replicated?” Too much emphasis has been placed on the scale up of enterprises rather than scale up of processes created by those enterprises.

Scale up is easier where ecosystems have already being built – like scaling up software companies in the bay area. A similar mindset is being applied for social enterprises which often work in business hostile conditions and where it is still taking time to develop the ecosystem. Think about it – social enterprises are creating the “internet ” and “google” simultaneously – and that takes time, money and patience.

Next time when you ask a social entrepreneur to scale up – think twice, even three times. Understand the process, understand the mission, and most importantly understand the problem.The processes created by social enterprises aim to address environmental, social, and financial sustainability – they will be time-tested and eventually replicated. How many standard corporates can say that?

There are more than four billion people in this world with no access to many basic needs of life, like energy, food, and water. But the four billion people are not a monolithic structure or profile. They are not waiting with standard needs that require standard solutions. There are wide variations in culture, requirements, standards of living. Standard scale up business models that have been tried on the two billion (haves) will not work on the four billion (have nots).

Scale of replication should accelerate. Scale alone will not work.