The Scaling Community of Practice (CoP) launched an action research initiative on mainstreaming scaling in funder organizations in January 2023. This initiative has three purposes: to inform the CoP members and the wider development community of the current state of support for and operationalization of scaling in a broad range of development funding agencies; to draw lessons for future efforts to mainstream the scaling agenda in the development funding community; and to promote more effective funder support for scaling by stakeholders in developing countries. (For further details about the Mainstreaming Initiative, see the Concept Note on the COP website) 

The Mainstreaming Initiative is jointly supported by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Scaling Community of Practice (CoP). The study team consists of Richard Kohl (Lead Consultant and Project Co-Leader), Johannes Linn (Co-Chair of the Scaling CoP and Project Co-Leader), Larry Cooley (Co-Chair of the Scaling CoP), and Ezgi Yilmaz (Junior Consultant). MSI staff provide administrative and communications support, in particular Leah Sly and Gaby Montalvo. 

The principal component of this research is a set of case studies of the efforts to mainstream scaling by selected funder organizations. These studies explore the extent and manner in which scaling has been mainstreamed, and the major drivers and obstacles. The case studies also aim to derive lessons to be learned from each donor’s experience, and, where they exist, their plans and/or recommendations for further strengthening the scaling focus.  

The present case study focuses on CARE. It was prepared by David Leege, Anita Sundari Akella, Brittany Dernberger, Caitlin Shannon, and Zahra Khan from CARE. The authors are grateful for the support and encouragement of senior leadership from CARE’s executive, strategic, programmatic, and regional/national teams, who have been the engines driving CARE’s commitment to exponential impact through scale. We are also grateful to Richard Kohl and Johannes Linn from the Scaling Community of Practice who provided thoughtful comments on earlier drafts.  

Executive Summary 

CARE is an international development and humanitarian aid organization dedicated to ending global poverty. Founded in 1945, CARE works in over 100 countries and focuses on gender equality, the right to health, climate justice, the right to food and clean water and economic development. CARE responds to global emergencies and disasters with both immediate relief and long-term, comprehensive recovery programs. It also works with Congress as an advocate to inform legislation and policy changes related to poverty and social justice, aiming to address the underlying causes of poverty. 

This case study of CARE’s mainstreaming efforts is part of an action research initiative of the Scaling Community of Practice. It traces CARE’s mainstreaming journey over a decade and outlines the organization’s current strategy to support the mindset shift, operational processes, and change management required to mainstream scaling across the organization. The paper concludes with a set of lessons that capture potential drivers and difficulties of mainstreaming scale for the development sector at large.  

CARE’s scaling vision, ambitions and definition were determined over time through a process of action and reflection on the barriers to reach all people in need across CARE’s portfolio. 

  • 2015-2020: CARE develops its “Impact Growth Strategies” (IGS), seeking to “multiply” impact in all five regions where CARE worked (Latin American & Caribbean, West Africa, East Central and Southern Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and Asia and the Pacific).  
  • 2018: CARE develops its first global scaling plan for its Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) model.  
  • 2020: “Impact at Scale” is adopted as a foundational element of the organization’s Vision 2030 strategy, formalizing the process of mainstreaming scaling at CARE. This decision is made in recognition of the fact that “business as usual” would result in a failure to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.1 
  • 2020-2021: A cross-CARE working group is formed to further define what Vision 2030’s ‘Impact at Scale’ principle would mean in practice, in terms of definitions, objectives, metrics, structures and resources.  
  • 2021: Sustainability becomes central to CARE’s vision for Impact at Scale. Scaling solutions in a sustainable manner – “sustainable scale” – is defined as finding a doer at scale that is not CARE (government, civil society, or private sector), and a payer at scale that is not traditional project-based funding from institutional donors.  

Key Takeaways 

  1. It has been important to assess the scaling potential of successful CARE interventions that have been widely replicated through grant-funded projects since some may have the potential to be retrofitted for sustainable scale, while many others will not.  
  2. Through this analytical work, CARE is developing, testing and iterating (a) methods that technical and CO teams will be able to use to gauge the sustainable scale potential of their own interventions, and (b) guidance that will help build new interventions with sustainable scale in mind from the outset. 
  3. In developing CARE’s vision of achieving catalytic/exponential impact, the organization recognized that the solutions to be scaled did not necessarily have to originate from CARE’s own experience or portfolio. Rather, CARE could use its footprint and network to serve as a platform for sustainably scaling external best-in-class solutions developed by other CSOs or social enterprises to the last mile.
  4. The transition to a sustainable scale approach requires adaptation at three levels:  
  • Adjusting models to be simple, affordable and cost-effective enough for other doers and payers at scale to adopt, implement and pay for. 
  • Identifying the full constellation of local institutions that will be critical to delivering the intervention at scale and strengthening their capacity to take “ownership” of the intervention including, assuming full responsibility for its planning, funding, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and its continued evolution.  
  • As ownership of interventions shifts to local institutions, adjusting CARE’s operating model – Including structure, staffing, revenue sources and costs –  is essential to shift CARE’s role from direct implementation to “systems orchestration”.  

 Key Lessons 

  1. There are no shortcuts to scaling impact, which requires a significant investment of time and resources to do well. 
  2. Scaling requires broad engagement and alignment throughout the organization. It is not enough to create a global scaling team; in reality it requires a “whole of organization” effort to succeed. 
  3. When adapting solutions for scale, there is always the risk that programmatic impact may be reduced as the intervention is redesigned to reach more people. Tradeoffs between depth of impact and reach must be carefully considered. 


CARE has been working for a decade to identify the most effective pathways to deliver gender equal solutions through local actors at scale. As part of its Vision 2030 commitment, CARE has set ambitious targets across all impact areas and invested significant resources to sustainably scale impact through other payers and doers, recognizing that CARE’s efforts alone cannot match the scale of the problems CARE’s target populations face. The work of integrating scaling methods into the DNA of CARE is ongoing. Realizing this vision will rely heavily on committed leadership, mindset shifts and learning to adjust solutions and CARE operations to deliver through other payers and doers at scale.  



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