What is Scaling Up?

Scaling up is defined in different ways in the literature, but in development it’s usually linked to the need to reach many more members or target groups for a particular development service or outcome. A program or an organization expands its size through larger membership base, larger constituency (for grassroots organizations) or a broader geographic area.

This cross-cutting issue occupies an important place in the thinking of governments, donors and NGOs because of persistent service delivery challenges. It is essential to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to eradicate illness in the world, to educate billions so they can have a better life and to fight poverty at a global level. Governments and donors can be very good at delivering physical investments, even very large ones like highways, bridges, hospitals, irrigation, etc. They are less successful in providing services that involve changes or adaptation in human behavior, such as teachers showing up at school, patients cured, and farmers that receive water and technical help to improve their productivity. Many of such “wicked development problems” have been solved at a local level by organizations that are either owned by the poor or very close to them. Their struggle is to grow beyond the communities they serve. In spite of great success in both physical investments and local solutions to poverty, there is a large missing middle that neither top down nor bottom up approaches get to. This is the space that needs to be populated for development solutions to solve some of the most difficult challenges we face today.


Pathways to Scale

The pathways to scaleThere are two primary pathways to scale up social innovations: through government and through markets.

Social innovations and entrepreneurs can leverage the structures of government to reach greater impact, especially if the potential for broad impact is factored into early choices that optimize an innovation’s viability for replication and mainstreaming through government agencies and actors.