How to Take a Social Venture to Scale

By Paul N. Bloom

For a social entrepreneur with an innovative solution, the holy grail is scaling it—that is, taking it to a level where the new approach operates efficiently and effectively to achieve significant mitigation of a social problem. Indeed, many are under real pressure to scale as their supporters, not unlike investors in commercial ventures, clamor for higher social returns on their investments. But for every Habitat for Humanity , Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Teach for America that has managed to scale, there are thousands that have stagnated or failed. For the past several years, the author has been studying the successful scalers to discover how they made the leap from local to large-scale impact. The answer isn’t as simple as we might wish: their leaders have pursued a variety of strategies, and there is no single “best practice” formula for scaling a social venture. But the good news is that there are common elements —seven organizational capabilities that can be developed and combined in different ways to take a promising innovation to the next level.

Harvard Business Review, 2012