Reflections on scaling

The innovation Sunu Jigeen, a motorcycle-based home consultation service for pregnant women. Photo credit: Ousmane Ly

Another productive week!. We have had multiple zoom calls and a lot of activity via email and Whastapp. Because two of the social enterprises that I am working with (Corpus and Njureel ) have started partnering, we now do 3-way calls, which is working out very well for collaborative brainstorming, planning, and trouble-shooting.

To re-cap, my organization, Mothers at Risk, is the funder of three pilots whose impact I am now helping assess as part of GHP547:

Keur Yaye (Links to an external site.)

Sunu Jigeen (Links to an external site.)

Sama Bajene (Links to an external site.)

Some general reflections:

  • I have been a bit disappointed in what feels like insufficient progress with the projects themselves; there has been a flurry of activity in the last several months but at this point they are not yet serving sufficient women to come close to reaching the objectives they had set out to achieve. We are all committed to women receiving quality and timely care during pregnancy and so delays in making that happen are a concern that is, I know shared by all of us.
  • My sense is that this relatively slow progress is explained by several factors: the teams have been occupied across different fronts, as they are all accountable to different donors and have other projects happening in parallel; the teams are to a great extent based on volunteers, many of whom also work part-time elsewhere, so their time is limited; they are relatively young organizations, with some growing pains and steep learning curves in certain aspects; and they have to hedge their bets and progress on different fronts to diversify their fundraising sources.
  • So during the time of the pilots we have funded, they have also been working on rolling out other projects, such as an“enriched flour” program for pregnant and lactating women and children, running general medical campaigns (with an emphasis on diabetes),  holding sexual and reproductive health sessions in schools, etc. These are all undoubtedly important activities, but they have meant not enough progress on “our” pilot.
  • I hope that these weeks together now in January as part of the GHP547 experience is helping them (re)focus on the three pilots
  • Several of the social enterprises I am working with seem to have ambitions for scaling up and to having a nation-wide presence. And indeed some of the activities they have undertaken these last months which felt to me like a distraction from the work on the pilots (traveling to regions far from the pilot site, serving beneficiaries other than pregnant women, etc) they feel are important to promoting their organizations and laying the foundations for eventual scaling. I have shared what I have learned over the years at Mothers at Risk and from what I have learned in my Scaling Up, Social Enterprises, and Systems Change classes at HKS/HBS: what seems to work best is to focus first on a robust proof of concept, i.e. a well implemented, well managed pilot in one place, with one particular cohort, demonstrating demand for the services and an efficient and effective delivery of these services. Once you do that and you have strong metrics to show, then you aim to replicate it, in increments, iterating as necessary. When you reach a certain critical mass, you have a persuasive case to make to different stakeholders who can then help make scaling a real possibility. Thinking about future scale is important to inform the pilots, but trying to already work now on achieving that scale does feel like putting the cart before the horse. I have encouraged them to really focus on the  teleconsultation/home consultations service for pregnant women peri-urban Dakar over the next couple of months. I am confident that they will reach the outputs and outcomes they have set for themselves.
  • It is great to see that the partnership between two of these social entrepreneurs I am working with, Njureel and Corpus, is deepening and they are joining forces with their respective pilots. They have done several team building activities over the weekend, outlining their respective competencies, mapping how these complement each other for this pilot and developing a joint collaboration calendar for 2022.

Looking forward to another week!

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