Scaling Pathways: Insights from the field on unlocking impact at scale

Four years ago, the Innovation Investment Alliance, a funding and learning partnership between the Skoll Foundation and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Development Lab, with support from Mercy Corps, committed to investing $44.5 million in social enterprises across the globe. Their goal is to create systems-level change by supporting transformative social enterprises in reaching scale and to share findings from that work.

In 2016, Mercy Corps, as the Innovation Investment Alliance’s implementing partner, engaged CASE to analyze and share early lessons from the initial scaling grants. What were their scaling strategies and tactics? What were the biggest surprises and pivots? What have we learned from their successes – and failures – along the way?

The Scaling Pathways case studies series includes the Scaling Pathways paper, exploring the cross cutting lessons learned and trends we have found studying the social enterprises and their pathways to scale. We also do deep dives into selected social enterprises funded by the Innovation Investment Alliance, looking at their organizational backgrounds, pivots made along their scaling journeys, and what they learned along the way.

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About the social enterprises:

Based in Belém, Brazil, Imazon has been working to decrease deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in the Brazilian Amazon for over 25 years.  Its unique combination of data-backed research, innovative technology tools, and multi-sector partnerships has led to many successes and hard fought lessons learned.

Unsafe water is estimated to cause more than a half million diarrheal deaths annually. Through the Dispensers for Safe Water program, Evidence Action is tackling this problem by installing chlorine dispensers at community water points. Its interventions are evidence based (see key performance indicators here), focused on driving cost efficiency and required key pivots to ensure sustained adoption and impact.

VisionSpring provides affordable eyeglasses to people in areas that otherwise would not have access. VisionSpring has experimented with different business models through the years – from direct sales to retail to wholesale – resulting in distribution of glasses to over 3.5 million people in 40 countries. This case looks at the retail launch in El Salvador, what was learned, and how that’s impacted future scaling plans.

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