Scaling for Impact: Why it is Important

With the 2015 SharingValueAsia Summit about to kick off in Singapore, Craig Hoy, Executive Director of PublicAffairsAsia, explains why public-private partnerships must deliver impact and scale.

Almost all business entities want to invest in products and services that can be sold at scale across multiple markets. Business likes achieving economy of scale because it produces more at less cost. It is basic economics – nothing too startling, nothing too new. So, when translating this everyday concept into public-private partnership models, especially those founded on shared value principles, we begin to see an opportunity and an inherent risk, in the way many initiatives are currently founded and funded.

In June, at a workshop in Bangkok, PublicAffairsAsia (PAA) asked participants why scalability is important to a cross-sectoral group of practitioners engaged in partnership-based initiatives. One central reflection was that if the programme could not be scaled, then business would likely lose interest after a few years. The warm glow of building a new partnership, achieving great things together, and then reporting them to a wider group of stakeholders will inevitably dissipate if the programme fails to grow or extend its reach and impact – regardless of how worthy its impact is.

We came to three key conclusions: Building programmes designed for scalability enhances the potential for impact; creates common understanding about problems and changes mindsets to think bigger, generating broader awareness of the need to develop scalable solutions and engagement; and requires partners to confront the possibility of failure at scale, encouraging them to take risks.

At its core, scale delivers one central business objective: to create an economy of scale that yields a higher return on investment. Building at scale also addresses corporations’ need to ensure their investment is strategic and long-term, thus meeting business goals.

Here are five steps we recommend for scalable success in partnership:

1. Choose the right partners with common objectives, who are of a similar mindset, and who possess sectoral or mission alignments. Be prepared to work with new partners. Ensure you conduct a SWAT analysis of all constituent partners to make sure responsibilities and roles are allocated to those best positioned to drive them, which is in line with their core pre-existing service offering or expertise. Draw up legal agreements or memorandums of understanding, ensuring each partner is committed to the programme and fully understands what is expected of them.

2. Keep the overall programme target simple. Make sure the partnership, and the partners, are aligned to your core business or to their NGO terms of reference. Engage partners only after wide-ranging research. Also use resources to deliver communications, PR and marketing, which, while often overlooked, can add impetus toward achieving projects with scale.

3. Be persistent and focus on innovation at all stages in partnership negotiations. While the responsibilities are shared, ensure there is a project manager, or management group, to create a common direction and common benchmarks across the partner groups. Don’t be afraid to tackle conflict of interest or to hold partners to account for any disconnects between responsibilities allocated and duties discharged. Utilise new technologies that can be powerful accelerators and that can effectively scale-up opportunities.

4. Build in scope for replicability as this is a driver for scale. Developing prototypes means that they can be copied elsewhere – both across sectors and in different geographies where common problems exist. Establishing a suite of effective prototypes can be a good starting point, particularly in large organisations. Build planning strategies in succession to ensure the programme can continue to move forward even if a key partner disengages.

5. Designing projects at scale requires partners to commit to, and learn from, sophisticated measurement strategies. Large projects must show commensurate impact, and should involve an economy of scale. The risk that large programmes can suffer from a dilution of quality needs to be addressed; so too does the simple fact that operating at scale can mean failing at scale. Be prepared to take calculated risks to achieve impact, but learn quickly from mistakes. Agree on binding benchmarks and deploy commonly understood measurement approaches to ensure the programme is on track and meets its targets. Respond to this data by refining approaches or even rethinking the partnership’s operations and objectives where the need arises.

Across the region, we’ve seen some great initiatives where programmes, which serve the business as well as society or the environment, are achieving impact at scale. Take, for example, the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) – a partnership that brings together senior practitioners from across government, academia, industry, non-governmental and civil society sectors in Asia to initiate and sustain regional, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the role of food innovation in tackling obesity and chronic diseases in the region.

This gathering of key decision-makers works toward fostering a conducive forum to support dissemination of science-based information on the causes and drivers of obesity and chronic disease, and improve clarity on the barriers and enablers for R&D and food innovation in the region. ARoFIIN leverages effective public-private partnerships and stimulates scalable, cost-effective and multi-stakeholder strategies that drive food innovation and positive change in consumer behaviour.

So as we continue to probe into the best ways of achieving impact and scale ahead of the SharingValueAsia Summit in Singapore on 1 October, we have developed a draft checklist that food and beverage companies might like to consider when reviewing current programmes and framing plans for future initiatives. As we compile the information into an infographic to be published at the summit, we welcome your thoughts, both via the online survey and directly to me at the address below.

To take part in the survey click here.
For more on The SharingValueAsia Summit click here.
To contact the author Craig Hoy, click here.

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