By: Melizsa Mugyenyi, Chief Executive Officer, Graça Machel Trust
Graça Machel Trust is leading "The Back2School Project: Scaling an Accelerated Learning Model for Out-of-School Girls in Rural Communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania" supported by the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange, a joint endeavour between the International Development Research Centre and the Global Partnership for Education.
It is critical for development practitioners to spend sufficient time thinking about why and how we scale our work. We see plenty of calls to action – around specific campaigns, advocacy or industry best practice – but this is the first time I’ve seen one that focuses on the unique issue of scaling, which is surprising given its importance to our work.
The Call to Action from the Global South on Scaling Impact demonstrates that scaling definitions and solutions should vary across geographies, sectors, and contexts – and that it is important to understand various perspectives and experiences of scaling. The space is being created to have conversations and think a bit deeper about scaling beyond measuring numbers, beyond the very rigid Northern imposition of what scaling means, and that is powerful.
The Call reinforces the idea that we need to be more dynamic in the metrics we associate with scaling. To really appreciate the breadth and depth of scale, we need to look beyond the numbers of people reached and start looking at metrics such as institutional capacity to scale, community buy-in with ideas and ownership of co-created solutions. As non-profits and funders, we don’t have to own everything about a project or idea – if we look at scaling an innovation as a journey, then the actors involved along the way may look different over time, and the nature of that journey may change and adapt, with outcomes far more complex than sheer numbers.
Actions 1, 2 and 7 of the Call, which ask us to ‘rethink the purpose of scaling’, and root scaling in broad participatory approaches and Southern solutions, made me reflect on scaling in three awesome organisations I work with – where scaling by numbers isn’t the norm. These organizations are leaning into complexity, and their innovations provide interesting examples for taking the Call forward.
Scaling knowledge for health system strengthening
I sit on the board of Lwala Community Alliance, a non-profit which works with communities to strengthen healthcare systems in Migori Country, Kenya. The area was tremendously underserved. As demand grew for the Alliance’s services, they spent a good number of years thinking through what scaling would look like. Rather than landing on a replication model and building facilities everywhere, they decided to keep working with the established government public health care system and support that system to deliver stronger health outcomes. They introduced a very deliberate capacity-building model into their service delivery. This was impactful – rather than replicating in a literal sense and creating parallel systems, they are scaling knowledge and expertise, which has been really powerful.
Facilitating the scaling of network impact with women changemakers
At the Graça Machel Trust, where I serve as CEO, we predominantly focus on advocacy in the children's and women's space. We made a strategic decision years ago to support the seeding of collectives of women changemakers across the African continent – who would surface the needs of women in their countries and shape advocacy agendas, with our role being to facilitate their network impact. Areas of focus for advocacy are driven by these networks because they understand the context better than anyone else. Over time, our relationship has evolved, and will continue to as their priorities evolve. Network impact is a powerful strategy for scaling, where the role of an organization like the Trust is to facilitate and learn.
Scaling a mindset shift and investing in innovation
Another example, which may sound theoretical - but is practically incredibly powerful - is the idea of scaling as an ideology, or a mindset shift. I’m privileged to sit on the board of the African Visionary Fund – an organization that works to shift power dynamics within the philanthropic space and channel more resources directly to African-founded and African-led institutions. They’re trying to disrupt the idea, which is prevalent in our sector, that the risk of investing in African-led organizations is higher than others. The Fund works as an intermediary and is given autonomy by a whole range of donors to determine and invest in African leaders and visionaries. I see what they’re doing as scaling an ideology around locally-led development – they are building an evidence base for funders that demonstrates if you invest directly in unrestricted grants for African-led organizations, you will likely see more impact than if you channel funds towards the usual development actors. This incremental change, this mindset scaling, can help funders convince their boards of a different way of working.
A shifting landscape for scaling and development
We’re seeing strong signals of a shift in thinking about scaling, which the Call to Action demonstrates. A good number of donors, whether philanthropic, and to some extent bilateral, are increasingly decentralizing their decision-making and bringing it closer to the communities they’re serving in order to understand the local context. We’re seeing an increase in demand for intermediaries and smaller organizations on the frontline that are deeply embedded in the communities they serve.
We live in an interesting time – diversity, equity, and inclusion have never been more prominent globally, and organizations in all kinds of settings want to do better. They are confronting big issues around decolonization and power dynamics.
Despite this, there remains a deficit of trust to address in our sector, a need for more investments in capacity strengthening, and a need to move away from purely project-centred grant-giving. Moving forward with the actions in the Call would help to address these issues and scale in a way that disrupts the status quo for greater impact and scales around local innovations and action.