Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: November 2016

From our friend @JeffBradach at the Bridgespan Group.

Here are five articles that caught my eye this month that provide some interesting perspective around how to achieve impact at a transformative scale.

1. Connections to a Cause: The Millennial Way of Charity: This New York Times piece by Nicholas Fandos (@npfandos) explores how millennials are making decisions about their philanthropic giving. Young people want a direct connection with, and expect high-quality storytelling from, the causes they support. An interesting nonprofit called Watsi is tapping into this trend by providing a platform for donors to directly fund medical patients who can’t afford treatment. It’s another example of the kind of platforms and “direct to consumer” models that offer the potential for exponential scale.

2. Actionable Measurement: Getting from “Prove” to “Improve”: Matthew Forti and Kim Siegal share insights about their experiences working to expand One Acre Fund’s (@OneAcreFund) impact in Africa through actionable measurement. I think the framework they lay out is really instructive and relevant for any nonprofit building towards transformative impact at scale. It’s crucial for nonprofits to be comfortable adjusting their operating models by learning from the results of their impact data, both over time and across different geographies. Every example of achieving impact at scale includes this kind of adaptation.

3. How Employees at the World’s Largest Companies Are Assisting Entrepreneurs across Africa: Root Capital CEO Willy Foote (@rootcapitalceo) writes in Forbes about connecting small- and medium-sized food enterprises in Africa with needed technical expertise throughPartners in Food Solutions’ platform. “Since 2008, hundreds of corporate volunteers have contributed over 75,000 hours to help more than 700 early-stage food companies to improve food safety, packaging, processing, marketing, and more,” says Foote. In many fields, the for-profit sector has people with experiences and skills that are highly relevant to achieving impact at scale (e.g., building institutions and supply chains that are highly scalable). I believe one of the greatest untapped assets that exists for achieving impact is corporate actors sharing their core capabilities with social impact players (especially in technology realms, where the incremental cost of sharing is low and the value to social sector actors is high).

4. A Quiet Revolution: An interesting article by Andy Smarick (@smarick), a resident fellow at The American Enterprise Institute, who marks the 25th anniversary of the charter school movement by identifying some of its key characteristics and how it has influenced public education more broadly. The movement’s scale—approximately three million of the 50 million public school kids in the United States are enrolled in charter schools—is relatively small, but belies the ripples of impact the movement has had on policy reform debates and actions in every school district across the country. The charter school story is one that will continue to unfold through our lifetime—indeed, in the state where I live, Massachusetts, voters just opposed a proposition that would have lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. (And this is a state where public charter schools significantly outperform district schools on average.) The education reform battles also remind us that political dynamics often play a major role in charting paths to impact at scale.

5. An Agenda for Reducing Poverty and Improving Opportunity: Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill (@isawhill) writes about how the United States can go a long way towards closing the nation’s opportunity gap. She puts forth several policy recommendations to make education, jobs, and family stability top priorities. She also thinks we would see tremendous progress from scaling evidence-based programs, like Nurse Family Partnership, that invest in low-income children. Often, I am asked how a nonprofit can reach transformative impact at scale, but Sawhill flips this framing around by proposing what government should be funding to achieve impact at scale.

You can find posts about transformative scale, including past installments of Recommended Reads, on our blog. I also Tweet regularly about transformative impact at scale: @JeffBradach.

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