Beyond Organizational Scale: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Systems Change

Published by
Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
  • February 16, 2018
Beyond Organizational Scale: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Systems Change

For a sector that has long been obsessed with the holy grail of organizational scale, the social entrepreneurship sector is now coming to terms with the limits of incremental growth. The needs are just too large and urgent; the models for scaling we have developed thus far remain too narrow and simply take too long. Conventional scaling models borrowed from the private sector, such as branch replication, social franchising and open-source dissemination, seem woefully inadequate when aiming to create meaningful social change for entire populations.

The objective of this research report is to help practitioners understand what systems change means in the context of social entrepreneurship, how it is distinct from direct service or “business-in-a-box” models and, most importantly, what it looks like in practice – not as lofty exhortations and abstract concepts, but as a set of concrete activities, processes, and leadership lessons. Our intent is to move beyond systems theories – which, while useful, can be difficult to apply in a practical context – and instead tell the stories of how these theories can be applied across a range of circumstances. These stories follow six for-profit and non-profit social
entrepreneurs in the Schwab Foundation network, working in education, health, consumer rights, land rights, rural development and the informal economy, as their strategies evolved beyond organizational scale – growing the reach of a prescriptive, organizationally designed solution to a problem – to systemic scale, with the goal of shifting the rules, norms and values that make up social systems.

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