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Recap Scaling for Impact Learning and Exchange session

On April 16th Partos together with Michele Ernsting, Laura Miller (War Child), Ardan Kockelkoren (Rutgers) and Marjolijn Wilmink (Max Foundation) hosted an online learning event focused on strategies for scaling social impact by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The aim of the event was to jointly explore how the international development sector is approaching scaling for impact. What are guiding practices and pitfalls of scaling? And what does success look like in scaling, and not only success, but also what our what are our best failures or mistakes?

The event gathered experts and practitioners to discuss ways to expand the reach and effectiveness of successful programs, particularly in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The emphasis was on sharing knowledge and practices that can help NGOs to accelerate their impact across global communities.

24 April 2024

Definitions and Importance of Scaling

Scaling, as defined during the event, primarily refers to the process of expanding the reach and impact of successful programs or initiatives to benefit a larger population or geographical area. This can involve increasing the scope of projects, replicating a model in different settings, or deepening the impact within the current operational areas to address more complex aspects of the problems.

The importance of scaling was underscored by the urgent global challenges addressed by the SDGs. Panellist highlighted that effective scaling could lead to significant social and environmental impacts, making it crucial for NGOs aiming to meet these extensive needs.

Strategies for Scaling

The event featured a detailed discussion on various strategies for scaling, which included:

  • Replication: This involves duplicating successful programs or projects in new locations or contexts while maintaining the core components that led to their initial success.
  • Partnerships: Building strategic partnerships with other organizations, governments, and communities can facilitate scaling by leveraging additional resources, expertise, and networks.
  • Capacity Building: Enhancing the skills, technologies, and infrastructure necessary to support larger-scale operations is critical. This often involves training staff, investing in technology, and developing management systems that can handle increased complexity.
  • Adaptation and Localization: Tailoring interventions to fit different cultural, social, and environmental contexts is crucial for effective scaling. This ensures that scaled-up projects remain relevant and effective across diverse settings.
  • Policy Advocacy: Working to change policies or legal frameworks can enable scaling by creating a more conducive environment for expanded operations or by influencing broader systems and structures.The panellist emphasized that a strategic blend of these approaches is often necessary to overcome the inherent complexities of scaling.

We need to include our principles around localization and guidance around localization also in our scaling approach, not only our own localization policy.” Laura Miller (War Child).

Challenges of Scaling

Scaling is fraught with challenges, as detailed by the panellists:

  • Funding Constraints: Securing the necessary financial resources to scale operations is a major challenge. This includes not only initial funding but sustainable financing models to support ongoing activities at a larger scale.
  • Quality Control: Maintaining the quality of programs as they expand is difficult. Challenges include ensuring consistent delivery across different regions and preventing dilution of program effectiveness.
  • Complexity in Coordination: Scaling increases organizational complexity, requiring enhanced coordination among teams, better communication systems, and more robust governance structures.
  • Cultural and Contextual Differences: Adapting programs to different local contexts without compromising the core elements that made them successful is a delicate balance that can be challenging to achieve.
  • Impact Measurement: As programs scale, accurately measuring their impact becomes more complex but increasingly important to ensure they are achieving their intended goals and to guide further scaling decisions.

And as somebody who’s been working on scaling for 15 years, I consider myself a student. I didn’t study scaling. I learn about it every day, and the way I describe it is crossing the river by feeling the stones.” Michele Ernsting (War Child).

Guiding Practices for Scaling

The event outlines several best practices that can guide NGOs in their scaling efforts, drawn from both successes and ongoing challenges in the field:

  • Evidence-Based Decision Making: Utilizing data and evidence to guide scaling decisions is crucial. This involves conducting thorough evaluations of pilot projects, gathering feedback from beneficiaries and stakeholders, and using this information to refine and adapt strategies.
  • Iterative Development: Emphasizing an iterative approach to scaling, where interventions are continually tested, adjusted, and improved based on real-world experiences. This approach allows organizations to manage risks and make informed adjustments to their scaling strategies.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including communities, government agencies, funders, and partner organizations, throughout the scaling process. This engagement ensures that scaling strategies are inclusive, culturally sensitive, and aligned with the needs of those they aim to serve.
  • Building Organizational Capacity: Strengthening organizational structures, processes, and capabilities to support expanded operations. This includes investing in staff training, enhancing technological infrastructure, and developing leadership that can manage the complexities of scaled-up activities.
  • Sustainability Planning: Integrating considerations of long-term sustainability into the scaling process, ensuring that scaled-up interventions are financially and operationally viable over the long term. This might involve developing new funding models, forming policy alliances, or implementing cost-recovery mechanisms.

The key to sustainably scaling cost-effective interventions is not just finding what works but continuously adapting it to ensure it keeps working as we expand.” Ardan Kockelkoren (Rutgers).

Pitfalls of Scaling

Alongside the guiding practices, the panellists also discussed common pitfalls that organizations often encounter when scaling:

  • Overextension: Expanding too quickly without adequate resources or infrastructure can lead to overextension, where the quality and effectiveness of programs are compromised.
  • Mission Drift: There is a risk of mission drift where organizations deviate from their core objectives in the pursuit of growth or adapt their programs so extensively that they no longer align with their original mission.
  • Neglecting Local Nuances: Failing to adequately adapt interventions to local contexts can result in ineffectiveness or even harm. Understanding and respecting local customs, knowledge, and needs are essential for the success of scaled-up initiatives.
  • Underestimating Complexity: Underestimating the complexity of scaling can lead to inadequate preparation and planning. Scaling is not just a linear expansion but often involves significant changes to program design, delivery mechanisms, and organizational structure.
  • Inadequate Impact Assessment: Not rigorously measuring the impact of scaled-up interventions can lead to inefficiencies, wasted resources, and missed opportunities for learning and improvement.


Success in scaling is measured not only by the reach or size of the initiatives but also by their depth of impact and sustainability. Effective scaling should lead to meaningful, lasting change for the target populations. Recognizing and analyzing failures is equally important, as it provides valuable lessons that can refine future scaling efforts. Discussing failures openly encourages a culture of learning and continuous improvement within organizations.

The Scaling event hosted by Partos provided a comprehensive platform for learning and discussion about the critical task of scaling interventions for greater social impact. The insights shared underscored the necessity of a thoughtful, collaborative approach to scaling, emphasizing the importance of adapting and improving continuously. As NGOs strive to amplify their impact, the strategies and lessons shared during this event will undoubtedly serve as valuable guides.

Our experience in Tanzania shows that when you tailor innovations to the local market and work alongside government agencies, scaling isn’t just possible; it’s transformative.” Marjolijn Wilmink (Max foundation).

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