Building a Knowledge Base for the Scaling Social Impact Field

Scaling social impact – defined as focusing on increasing philanthropic and capital investments in scaling effective social programs – continues to evolve at a high speed. New growth capital opportunities, development of capital aggregation systems, and an expanding role for capital intermediaries are only a few examples of the evolution of the sector. To help inform the evolution of the sector, the Social Impact Exchange has convened a number of small working groups to further develop an understanding of scaling social impact and increase coherence in the field. The working groups engage members of the Social Impact Exchange in specific project related to scaling impact and in identifying scale ready programs for growth funding.

(By way of background, the Social Impact Exchange, a special initiative of the Growth Philanthropy Network, in partnership with Duke University’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society and its Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, focuses on creating a capital marketplace to increase private investment and share knowledge on funding evidence-based, high performing nonprofit initiatives. A national membership association, it provides an online community for those interested in working and investing together to build the field of scaling social solutions.)

I was privileged to join one of these groups – focused on the knowledge base in the sector – which convened for the first time this week. This knowledge working group includes key thinkers from philanthropy, academia, the nonprofit sector, and consultant community actively engaged in advancing and leading scaling impact efforts. Its goal is to collaborate and coordinate knowledge aggregation, disseminate and deliver content, and develop new knowledge about scaling social impact.

The current state of knowledge in the scaling impact sector is somewhat fragmented. A growing number of resources – such as GEO’s recent report on scaling and the Social Impact Exchange’s Knowledge Center – exist; yet, a clear process for people to effectively use this emerging knowledge base remains missing. And while a lot of research has been generated about scaling social impact, 85% of the research has focused on individual case studies while not providing much by way of empirical evidence.

Nevertheless, a clear prioritization emerged from the knowledge working group on key issues in scaling social impact. Those include:

  • Developing scaling strategies;
  • Measuring and evaluation performance;
  • Implementing scaling initiatives;
  • Ecosystems thinking and collective impact;
  • Lessons learned and case studies; and
  • Capital market development.

Over the next four months, members of the knowledge working group will work with the Growth Philanthropy Network staff to further define a research agenda for the scaling social impact field, create a much stronger aggregation system of existing knowledge materials on the field, and advance professional development and learning opportunities on the subject.

Ultimately, the Social Impact Exchange and its knowledge working group envision that their collective efforts will increase the effectiveness and design of scaling social impact efforts. In an ongoing commitment to provide insights into this effort, I as well as other colleagues in the knowledge working group will continue to publish periodic updates on our progress.


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