The Scaling Community of Practice (CoP) launched an action research initiative on mainstreaming scaling in 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 organizations experience, and, where they exist, their plans and/or recommendations for further strengthening the scaling focus. The present case study focuses on Catholic Relief Services and its strategic effort to institutionalize catalyzing outcomes at-scale.  It was prepared by Erin Baldridge, Rudy Blackwell and Matthew Will of Catholic Relief Services, as an in-kind contribution to the Scaling Community of Practice. Johannes Linn, Lawrence Cooley and Richard Kohl provided external peer review of the first version. 

Executive Summary 

This research was conducted by CASCADE to assess CRS´ progress toward becoming an organization that catalyzes outcomes at scale and identify contributing factors. Based on this learning, recommendations were made to boost efforts toward catalyzing humanitarian outcomes at scale, a central part of CRS’ Vision 2030: In Their Own Hands. 

CRS, an international, faith-based NGO, started as a post-WWII emergency response organization. In the last two decades, CRS has evolved from consistently working through local actors, to working with them, to now aspiring to work for them. CRS aims to transform systems to aid the vulnerable. Over the past 4 years CRS has spent $8 million of discretionary funding and raised an additional $45 million for the strategic change platforms (SCP)- global initiatives for learning and impact at scale.  Simultaneously, CRS chose to invest its $1 million-per-year legacy grant from GHR Foundation on institutional strengthening for scale (CASCADE). 


Internal Peer Review (inclusive of peer staff that gave review of specific content or a full review): Nell Bolten; Tony Castleman, Beth Collins, Lori Pearson Von Coelln, Sarah Forcino, Sarah Gilbert, Michele Gilfillan; Katlyn Holland, Courtney Khalil, Bridget Kimball, Carrie Miller, Petula Nash, Annemarie Reilly, Shannon Senefeld, Nodji Stringfellow, Amelia Thompson, Josh Voges, Julia Wallin and Max Wohlgemuth  

External Peer Review (Non-Scaling Community of Practice): Representatives from Utilization Focused Evaluation (UFE): Charmagne Campbell-Patton and Michael Quinn Patton. 

Content Contributors: CASCADE put out a call for narratives about institutionalizing catalyzing scale from colleagues around the world. The below list of CRS staff wrote the narratives that are used in this research: Abdul-Ganiu Konlan Abubakari, Oro-ghene Adia, Simone Blanchard, Nell Bolton, Erica Dahl-Brendine, Minh Chau, Daniella Enongene, Luca Ginoulhiac, Nicole Johnson, Bridget Kimball, Michael Koroma, Nora Lindstrom, Ngan Pham, Alexandra Medina, Mujaddid Mohsin, Michelle Neukirchen, Thi Nguyen, Ehsan Rizvi, Mehul Savla, Elizabeth Shaw, Reshma Shrestha, Analese Snyder, Marell Wong, Hoang Thi Xuan and Momina Zuberi 

Graphic Design Support: Rebeka Martensen  

Editorial and writing support: Katlyn Holland

Key Lessons: 

  • Colleagues are adapting systems thinking and scale mindset, primarily within scale initiatives. Broad institutionalization is a work in progress. 
  • CRS staff generally believe scale initiatives should rely on private funding. This discourages Country Program (CP) and Regional leaders, to work with scale initiatives as they are incentivized to seek donor funds. 
  • Progress has been made in adapting business processes for scale, but they are not yet integrated or institutionalized in CRS, affecting the ability to catalyze outcomes at scale at the CP level due to lack of guidance.  
  • Vision 2030: In Their Own Hands strategy, has silos between strategic initiatives and breaking them down could enhance our ability to catalyze scale.  While there are some early initiatives to un-silo, they are based on volunteerism and lack a birds-eye/strategic view. This can lead to exclusion of key staff or departments that should be included in strategic discussions, which can reinforce the silos. 

Top Findings: 

  • The Vision 2030: In Their Own Hands strategy, of catalyzing outcomes at scale was responsive to an emerging way Country Programs and Regions were addressing the needs of their context.  Numerous case studies provided empirical evidence of CRS having instances of working at scale even before Vision 2030 was finalized.  This report confirms that CRS is on-track, building on emerging instances of catalyzing scale to now institutionalizing scale, despite being in the early stages of this long-term change process. 
  • CRS is developing methods for measuring scale, but for the most part they are still in early stages and require testing. At the global level, CRS lacks a system for strategic learning for scale which would guide understanding of significance and changes needed. 
  • Strategic thinking has fostered a supportive environment for scale, with staff aligning their efforts to support the strategic approach. 
  • CRS´ approach to scale is evolving to combine direct service delivery, connect with systems thinking, and catalyze outcomes at scale.   
  • At all levels, CRS is undergoing a mindset shift about scale. Senior leaders are actively promoting scale, demonstrating their commitment, and providing incentives across regional and global teams. 

Top Recommendations 

  • CRS leaders in CPs, Regions and Global Teams should continue to prioritize creating a shared understanding of what CRS means by catalyzing outcomes at scale and how our regular work can set the foundation for being a catalyst when done intentionally.  
  • CRS should develop a system for strategic learning about the extent to which we are progressing towards and catalyzing outcomes at scale. The system should be data light and strategic learning heavy, continuing to measure a few key indicators. 
  • At the level of Vision 2030: In Their Own Hands strategy, the strategy team should consider which strategic approaches or strategic initiatives would benefit from increased collaboration to institutionalize scale and enhance CRS’ ability to engage at the scale of the problems we seek to address. 
  • Country or Regional Strategies focused on scale should be accompanied by an adaptive multiyear funding plan. Currently, the annual program planning process (APP) limits the country program’s ability to project for longer-term change initiatives. 
  • CASCADE should prioritize development and accompaniment of processes for strategic planning, design, adaptive management and Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) for scale. 
  • CRS should use discretionary funds to put in place a “scale” fund. This fund can complement non-SCP specific scale related initiatives that are showing promise but need additional investment to advance to the next level. This should not be a pilot fund (which typically is used to innovate and scale) but rather can be used to fit unique needs (such as funding staff required between donor funded projects, generating evidence, and demonstrating change CRS approaches bring about) that are identified in a scaled vision.   
  • CRS should explore ways blended finance models can be more widely applied to contribute to the resource needs for scale initiatives. 

Recommendations for funders 

  • Funders should carry out activities that are aimed at catalyzing outcomes at scale and expand their definition of how they go about working at scale to include concepts such as catalyzing response at the scale and nature of the problem and shifting the conditions that hold the problem in place. 
  • Funders should increase the duration of agreements, allowing the time it takes to scale. 
  • Funders need to make institutional changes within their own structures to become organizations that support catalyzing permanent local actors to affect change at scale. 
  • Funders should design funding agreements with high levels of adaptability in mind. 
  • Funders should consider providing institutional strengthening funding to enable intermediary organizations to work more effectively as a catalyst for outcomes at scale. 
  • Funders should consider designing funding opportunities that challenge implementing partners to contribute, collaborate, engage toward collective impact with systems actors and not create time-bound parallel systems to achieve short term results.   


CRS has been working for 20 years with an articulated intent to support permanent local actors and shift unjust systems and structures (Integral Human Development). With the recent strategic priority in Vision 2030: In Their Own Hands, of catalyzing outcomes at-scale, CRS is enhancing its work to work at the scale of the problem. CRS is on track to becoming an organization that catalyzes outcomes at scale. There is still much to be done to institutionalize this way of working. Continued leadership, mindset shifts, practical accompaniment and strategic learning will help fulfill this vision. 



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