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Paul N. Bloom and Aaron K. Chatterji of Duke University discuss a model that they have developed to conceptualize scaling impact for social entrepreneurs.

Scaling social impact has become a major challenge for social entrepreneurs—individuals who start up and lead new organizations or programs to address social problems using change strategies that differ from those used in the past. Social entrepreneurs who achieve initial success with their ideas often have difficulty replicating these ideas on a larger scale.

To determine what factors contribute to success when social entrepreneurs scale up their efforts, we developed a model that identifies seven organizational capabilities, or “drivers.” We also indicate situational contingencies that might lead some drivers to be more effective in certain situations than in others. The drivers are identified by the acronym “SCALERS”: staffing, communicating, alliance building, lobbying, earnings generation, replicating, and stimulating market forces.

Staffing refers to the organization’s effectiveness at filling its labor needs—including managers, staff, and volunteers—with people who have the right skills for their positions. Organizations that prioritize this driver pay close attention to their personnel and human resource functions, so that recruiting, training, appraising, and compensating staff are done competently. Many organizations must pay equal or greater attention to recruiting, training, and managing unpaid volunteers, who are often the lifeblood of cash-starved social organizations. Boards of directors need to be adept at identifying, recruiting, guiding, and retaining top management to lead the organization.

Communicating refers to the organization’s ability to convince stakeholders that its strategy is worth adopting or supporting. Placing a priority on this driver means the organization is successful at persuading potential beneficiaries to take advantage of its services or to change their behaviors in socially beneficial ways, convincing volunteers and employees to work for the organization, encouraging consumers to patronize the organization’s income-generating activities, persuading donors to provide funds to the organization, or creating favorable public attitudes toward the organization’s programs.

Alliance building is the effectiveness with which the organization has forged partnerships and other linkages to bring about desired social changes. Recent research has identified alliance building as an essential ingredient in successful scaling. Organizations that employ this capability effectively do not try to do things on their own, but instead forge unified efforts.

Lobbying is the organization’s ability to advocate for government actions that may work in its favor.1 Organizations that lobby skillfully succeed in getting courts, administrative agencies, legislators, and government leaders to help their cause.

Earnings generation refers to the effectiveness with which the organization generates a stream of revenue that exceeds its expenses. Organizations that are successful at generating earnings do not have trouble paying their bills or funding their activities.

Replicating refers to an organization’s effectiveness in reproducing its programs and initiatives. An organization that is adept at replication ensures that its services, programs, and other efforts can be copied or extended without a decline in quality; training, franchising, contracting, and other tools are used to ensure quality control.

Stimulating market forces covers an organization’s ability to create incentives that encourage people or institutions to pursue private interests while also serving the public good. An organization with this capability is successful at creating markets for offerings (i.e., products and services) such as microloans or carbon credits. Stimulating market forces can lead to significant social change.

The SCALERS model proposes that the extent to which an individual driver influences scaling success depends on various factors in an organization’s internal and external environment that can enhance or suppress a driver’s influence. For example, the degree to which staffing drives scaling success depends on the organization’s labor needs. When labor needs are high (e.g., the organization provides highly skilled services to large numbers of clients), staffing is crucial for successful scaling. However, when labor needs are low (e.g., the organization’s strategy is not based on service delivery), other drivers are more critical to success. In some situations, effective deployment of all seven drivers is needed for successful scaling. In others, success is dependent on a few critical drivers.

Taken as a whole, the SCALERS model offers a roadmap for social entrepreneurial organizations interested in scaling their impact. In addition, it can act as an evaluation framework that helps social entrepreneurs to track and assess scaling progress and to identify ways to improve. For example, an organization might use the model to assess its performance and determine how past actions have helped or hurt its ability to scale. The model can also appraise the potential impact of future plans. And, finally, an organization might use the model to examine its ecosystem and determine how situational contingencies affect the seven drivers, both negatively and positively.

Related Resources

Bloom, P. N., & Chatterji, A. K. (2009). Scaling social entrepreneurial impact. California Management Review, 51(3), 114–133.

Bloom, P. N., & Chatterji, A. (2009). Scaling social entrepreneurial impact. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing.

Paul N. Bloom
Adjunct Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Marketing
Fuqua School of Business
Duke University

Aaron K. Chatterji
Assistant Professor
Fuqua School of Business
Duke University

1. The term “lobbying” is used loosely here and does not refer only to registered lobbyists, which could jeopardize an organization’s tax-exempt status.

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