It seems that a particular article has caught the attention of those of us interested in scaling social enterprises, if my Twitter feed is to be believed. At least ten people or organisations that I respect have mentioned the article ‘How to take a social venture to scale’ by Paul Bloom on the Harvard Business Review Blog. Scaling social ventures is something that occupies both the heart and the head of the Shaftesbury Partnership (SP) – being central to our vision and passion, and deeply embedded in our thinking and practice.
The HBR article comes at an interesting time: at SP we are currently reflecting on the learning from the ventures we have scaled – and those we are now scaling – to identify and solidify our own take on ‘how to take a social venture to scale’ (we have also just completed a report for Big Lottery Fund Scotland on a similar topic). So it’s useful to see how Bloom’s analysis correlates with what we do.
Bloom suggests seven key capabilities for taking a social venture to scale, helpfully arranged into the acronym SCALERS: Staffing, Communicating, Alliance-Building, Lobbying, Earnings Generation, Replicating, and Stimulating Market Forces. In this blog I’ll look briefly at each from the perspective of the Social Business Partnership (SBP), illustrating our experience and approach, and hoping to learn something along the way.
This is vital for us on two levels, if not more. Firstly, SP has built and is building a strong team, with a range of skills and backgrounds. We’ve also spent a lot of time as a team reflecting on our values. Secondly, from the perspective of SBP and other social ventures, we’ve observed time and time again that having talented individuals in the team leader role is vital. They should have both the expertise to deliver the product or service successfully and the ability to mentor, train and empathise with their trainees or service users. It is particularly in those individuals that ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’ meet.
This is about ‘getting the word out’. We hope that SBP will provide a platform for communication for our corporate members and our social enterprise suppliers. We want to embed impact measurement and story-telling into our processes for mutual benefit. And communicating is just one of the purposes of this blog – it’s getting the word about SBP out there.
Right from the outset, we’ve looked for a dynamic, credible partner in order to help SBP achieve the scale we aspire to. To that end, we’ve built an alliance with Social Firms UK. We’re also working across the private, public and social sectors, building relationships and partnerships. There’s potentially something in this for our private sector suppliers and social enterprise suppliers more directly in the sharing of skills, experiences and learning opportunities in both directions.
While SP hasn’t directly been involved in lobbying, the political and legal shifts that have come about because of the collective action and voice of the social enterprise movement have a positive impact on SBP. For example, the introduction of the Public Services (Social Value) Bill came about in no small part thanks to the lobbying of Social Enterprise UK and will encourage procurers and commissioners of contracts to take social and environmental value into greater consideration in making their purchasing decisions.
This is exactly what SBP is all about; helping social enterprise scale up through increasing their earnings from selling their goods and services. The circular challenge needing income to achieve scale but needing scale to gain substantial contracts is where SBP comes in, brokering contracts and building capacity. SBP itself will generate earnings from members in order to support the social enterprises and to maintain its own sustainability.
SBP itself is designed to be replicable and replication may be the, or part of the, way in which our supplier social enterprises scale. When it comes to SBP, we may see city-specific SBPs or simply more of the tight-knit, highly-relational SBP cohorts such as those we aspire to create in our inaugural cohort.
Stimulating Market Forces
Another helpful point from Bloom and again something that lies at the heart of both SP and SBP. Political, social and economic factors are shaping the market in different ways and in different degrees towards more local, more diverse, more ethical or more positive supply chains. SBP provides a response to those forces by bridging an important disconnect in the market and, with social impact measurement woven into the fabric of the venture, will provide the market information and brokerage that members, consumers and commissioners need.
I hope you’ve found this brief summary of SCALERS as helpful and interesting as I have while writing it. The framework is a useful tool of starting to think about scaling social ventures and is in line with our own approach in many ways.
At SP and via SBP we’re trying to tackle significant, sizeable social problems and want to have a robust strategy for scale at the centre. Please do get in touch with any comments or suggestions, as I’m sure they’ll come in useful.
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