Growing, not scaling: Realising the mountain isn’t a molehill

5 thoughts on “Growing, not scaling: Realising the mountain isn’t a molehill”

  1. Agree, a very sound and welcome analysis. A few random thoughts from me:
    There are of course some interesting challenges with Nesta’s definition of scale. However huge google and Facebook are, could even they meet the definition of scale provided? With so much of the world digitally excluded you might argue that they are far from achieving impact to meet need, particularly given the formers stated intent to ‘do no evil’. Privacy issues, tax, low diverse workforce etc etc
    On the other hand and although not quite in the same league as FB and G, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Rasperry Pi, Seseme Street, Open Uuniversity and Fair Trade are surely good enough of successful social enterprises / innovations that have scaled impressively although all would fail the Nesta scale test too. (With the possible exception of Wiki)

    Secondly social sector organisations have lofty ambitions within many of their stated objectives; eradicate poverty, tackle inequality, stop child abuse, regenerate Gillingham etc, Do they seek to achieve these outcomes through scaling ? On the whole no, most will intentionally try to use a range of other routes to achieve their ambition; collaboration, influence, partnership, shifting societal attitudes and behaviours through advocacy and campaigns. Scaling a change in attitudes towards people previously harassed, excluded or locked up has not come about through accident or by any social innovator scaling.
    Thirdly, when we think about scale we tend to look at individual organisations and assess them singularly rather than assess the environment or ecosystem within which they exist. Scale in the social sector is often achieved through movements, fertile ecosystems that nurture and feed a scaling out of social innovation , a mainstreaming of what were once fringe ideas – be that votes for women, abolishment of slavery, the UN, equalities legislation or free healthcare. Scale in social innovation maybe does exist, it’s just that you might have to change your lens and perhaps your metrics.


    1. Peter, Absolutely, agree with what you say above. I suppose my main question is around whether we can design a ‘process’ for scale. Is that possible? I don’t get the feeling that many of the scale examples we know of were really ‘incubated’ in the way a way that allows a process to be replicated. They were all successful long before programmes to help ‘scale’ came onto the scene. I’m hopeful such programmes could work though. I get the feeling that Silicon Valley VCs, whilst still shooting in the dark to some extent, are creating an environment in which their chances of growing/scaling something are significantly improved. It’s not entirely a fluke when something grows, or a particularly fortuitous convergence of factors.

      Re-reading the above in light of your comments, I think I perhaps focus too much on financial means to scale – resources can be attracted in a much richer way through attraction of volunteers, followers etc. Wikipedia most of all makes that clear. Would be interesting process to go through – a funder/investor who says “unless we can get you a 100,000 volunteers, you’ll never scale, so let’s focus on your strategy for achieving that.”

      Two other very useful reports, alongside the Nesta one that I’ve found helpful/interesting:

      More debate to be had. I’m keen to discuss further the gap that happens beyond incubators at the moment. Feel early stage enterprises are now very well supported, but are struggling to the next level 1-3 years in. Thanks for the comments.


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