By Nicki Connell

On October 15th, 2018, The Eleanor Crook Foundation (ECF) released the third annual request for applications (RFA) for its flagship RISE (Research, Innovate, Scale, Establish) for Nutrition grant portfolio. ECF is a private grant-making foundation focused exclusively on global nutrition. At the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan in 2017, ECF made its first large financial pledge: to invest $100 million in nutrition by 2030. The RISE for Nutrition annual RFA is a key vehicle through which ECF will fulfill that pledge. Our grantees are top-level researchers from many of the most respected institutions working in global nutrition today, who are creatively designing and testing groundbreaking innovations. Through our RISE portfolio, ECF funds implementation research on cost-effective, scalable innovations designed to improve nutrition interventions in East Africa.

Though ECF has always placed significant value on the scalability of our research investments, until recently the Foundation did not have clear and pragmatic guidance to support ECF’s grant-making decisions and grantees. For several years, ECF has employed a conceptual pathway to scale in which research passes through three “Phases”: Phase One, in which grantees rigorously test innovations in a single real-world setting; Phase Two, in which grantees test proven innovations in multiple different contexts; and Phase Three, in which grantees work with relevant stakeholders to bring the tested innovation to scale. Although these Phases have served as excellent scaffolding for ECF’s thinking on scaling, they have provided no practical guidance to our grantees (or to ECF internally) on how to move from one Phase to another.

To address these gaps in guidance, ECF is excited to announce the first installment of our Grantee Guidance Series: Theory of Sustainability and Theory of Scale. This resource provides RISE applicants with a set of considerations and recommendations for their planning at all Phases of ECF-funded research. The Scaling Up CoP’s leaders, Larry Cooley and Johannes Linn, were instrumental in creating this resource. ECF hopes these theories will serve as a resource that organizations in the global nutrition community (both ECF-funded and others) can use to integrate considerations of scale and sustainability more clearly into their project design and implementation.

Through experience with our previous RISE grants, we have learned that it is much easier to bring grantees from one Phase to another if they address key considerations of scale and sustainability–such as plans for ongoing funding, a thorough stakeholder analysis, clear advocacy and developing strong local connections–in their initial project design. However, incorporating these considerations is resource-intensive for research and implementation organizations, and less likely to generate donor dollars than merely proving the efficacy of a new innovation in one setting. Thus, ECF observes that many pilot projects go no further in the nutrition sector, just like in most other development sectors. Too few funders provide incentives from the get-go for researchers to design for scale and sustainability for those innovations with positive results.

We are not only laying out a clear guidance document for scale and sustainability considerations at each funding Phase, but ECF also plans to include potential scalability as a key criterion for grant-making decisions, and to host an in-person scaling workshop for short- listed RFA applicants. In taking the time to build grantee capacity to implement scalable, sustainable projects, ECF hopes to help pave the way for other donors to more thoroughly consider issues of sustainability and scalability as well.

It is time donors provide the tools and funding that implementers need to ensure that their innovations have the potential to achieve maximum, lasting impact at scale. ECF is excited to work closely with the Scaling COP as we continue to hone our approach to working with grantees to define and implement sustainable projects at scale. On a final note, ECF is also pleased to announce that scaling expert Johannes Linn has joined ECF’s Expert Advisory Board to formally advise on ECF technical decisions.

ECF’s Theory of Scale and Sustainability can be found here and the application to the 2018 RISE RFA here.



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