02/17/2012 12:07 pm ET Updated Apr 18, 2012

Replicating an Idea, Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 2 here.

7. Partnering for Leverage -- the Key to Creating a Movement.

Begin to partner right away, but select your partners carefully. Look for other organizations that can effectively implement your idea in combination with their own efforts -- making sure, of course, that your missions align. This will enable you to use their resources to leverage activity around your own mission. As you gain momentum and replicate, you may partner with many organizations. Always seek those that have complementary features to your own.

After we clearly defined our vision and our service capabilities at NFTE, we realized that instead of creating affiliate programs and partnering with individual teachers, we would have a stronger impact by centralize our resources and aligning with public school systems, and established organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs. Overseas, we looked for wealthy individuals or educational entities willing to take responsibility for a NFTE program. One of our first successful replications came from partnering with the Harvard Business School Clubs to establish NFTE programs in the Netherlands and Belgium.

When evaluating potential partners, consider the following:


If your replication strategy involves hiring employees in different locations, break the target areas into geographical units. This could be by country, language or ethnicity. Each unit will need an individual strategy.

Non-exclusive vs. Exclusive

Make sure you understand what rights you are granting when you franchise or license. Exclusive rights have to be carefully defined. If you have an agreement with a publisher, for example, make sure it does not hinder international sales in certain countries.

Media Messaging

This may be the most important consideration of all. Do not underestimate how much harm can be done to the replication of your idea by inconsistent messaging. The telling of the idea's story to the media must be consistent, and you need to make sure you have the final authority over media messages.

Time Limit

Every relationship will have a time limit, and it should be spelled out. This will provide for a natural and non-contentious conclusion to an arrangement. It also encourages a regular review of the relationship. How to get out of the relationship before the time limit expires, if necessary, should also be considered.

Financial Arrangement

Get the incentives right. Think through how all parties will benefit. Ultimately, everyone should be incentivized monetarily, as well as philanthropically, in the replication process.

Fundraising Issues

Who will control the right to fundraise for the idea? This is a key issue that must be discussed. Be careful about giving away this right permanently. Over the long-term, whoever controls the money will control the idea.

Reporting and Verifying Program Research Requirements

This is also key; as how the results are measured in each geographical area will be all-important decisions.

Choosing the Replication Strategy

In NFTE's case, we decided to focus on three things: curriculum development, teacher training, and alumni services. Choosing this strategy enabled enable us to become the world leader in youth entrepreneurship in these three areas. Just as importantly, it allowed us to clearly explain to others in our field what we were replicating.

Wherever you partner, be sensitive to culture. Make sure your idea is culturally friendly. Learn everything you can about the culture of the communities in which you are going to replicate. Learn about the people, and study their institutions and unwritten rules. Make sure your idea fits into their ethos.

Remember, quality and consistency are the toughest issues for idea replication. A particular program might work well at a particular place and time but, when replicated, the outcome is so different that the name and brand, or the idea itself, can be damaged, perhaps permanently. Do not replicate until quality controls are in place.

8. Always Keep Researching.

Spend half your funds on research. Explain to donors and supporters that research and programming budgets must be kept separate, and the former cannot be included in your "economics of one unit," as your variable costs will appear much to high.

Use three types of research:

  • Your own observations, recorded in a journal
  • Videotaping of activities, interviews, etc.
  • Standardized testing to measure your progress and record your achievements (always include pre- and post-tests as part of the procedure). Whenever possible use a "random assignment" method or control groups, for without such comparison, it is almost impossible to gain insights or to demonstrate that your idea is working.

In my opinion, video documentation of your unit of change before and after a program is the best research of all. I produced a video of my students running a school store in 1986, for example, that compared their interviews before they completed the NFTE program and afterwards. I used it to raise over $200,000.

9. Think Long Term.

You must think of the future from day one. Forecast in terms of decades, beyond your own lifetime -- that is how long it will probably take for you idea to affect the world.

For an idea to be successful, it needs to grow, and you will have to decide where and how to plant it, nurture it, and replicate it over time.

If your idea becomes successful, it will take on a life of its own. To last and survive, an idea must be simple and seem inevitable. There truly is no force like an idea whose time has come.

10. Always Be in "Pilot" Mode.

In order to grow an organization, you must have the flexibility to embrace change. NFTE has evolved over its 25 years as I have integrated my own lessons learned along the way. We continually seek to enhance our message, to evaluate the processes by which we measure success and calculate our impact, and to embrace our strengths and improve our weaknesses. What did not change, however, was the core idea that every child everywhere should find a pathway to prosperity, and the vision that this idea can be integrated into educational systems and programs around the world.

If you stay in pilot mode, you can use failure and criticism as the building blocks for future growth. When things inevitably go wrong, you will learn to view this as a part of the building process.

11. Join Organizations Where You Can Meet People with the Resources You Need.

The World Economic Forum and the Council on Foreign Relations are examples of organizations that have highly influential members, If your idea has international implications, convincing them of the value of your ideas will help to greatly in the replication of your idea. Other useful organizations include the Aspen Institute, think tanks, and trade organizations that work in the area you are trying to influence. Write articles for their publications and communicate with their membership.

12. Allow Your Idea To Expand Beyond Yourself

Your ultimate goal is for your idea to become a natural part of how people think about the world. This means that one day very few people will know that it originally was yours. A simple idea will grow organically through the implementation and experience others bring to it. Allow for open dialogue and the possibility for others to get involved.

A successful replication will get your idea into the minds of others, where it can actualize, affect the world at large, and become an agent of change. If an idea has value, replicating it will be the best way to help others and change the world.