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). 

For the purpose of this initiative, scale is defined as sustainable impact at a significant share of the need, demand, or problem. Scaling is the process of reaching scale. Mainstreaming of scaling is defined as the systematic consideration by the funder of the scaling process in the appraisal of a project, in the decision to fund it, and in the monitoring and evaluation of the project’s implementation.  

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 successes, challenges and lessons in Feed the Future, The US Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative.  It was prepared by Julie Howard, Independent Consultant, who served as Chief Scientist, Bureau for Food Security, and Senior Adviser to the USAID Administrator for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education from 2011 to 2014.

Executive Summary

Since the inception of Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) in 2010, our approach to supporting innovation for transformative impact has been and continues to be deeply rooted in the principles of scale and sustainability. Foundational to GCC’s origin was the concept of Integrated Innovation, which served to ensure innovators consider and prepare to go to scale from the outset of their work. Amongst the many partners and networks that we work with, Global Affairs Canada, GCC’s largest and longest standing funder, has been crucial in allowing us to continually evolve and improve our approach to funding and supporting innovations to scale impact.

GCC embeds considerations for scale and sustainability at every funding stage. At seed, applicants are asked questions pertaining to their long-term vision for scale and only those that have demonstrated proof of concept and have feasible scaling plans are considered for further funding. At the Transition to Scale phase, GCC offers grants and concessionary risk capital specifically targeted to fill the funding gap between pilot and scale. As the portfolio has grown (today at ~300 investments), GCC has implemented several improvements based on lessons learned. These include, introducing a phased approach to investments, experimenting with various forms of technical assistance, and increasing the upper funding limit to $3M over multiple rounds, amongst others.

GCC recognizes that there is no one path to scaling and has supported innovators pursuing public, private, and hybrid models. We also understand that systemic challenges faced by innovators that inhibit scale cannot be addressed through individual grants or investments. Seeking to influence the broader ecosystem of scaling innovations, we have awarded several ecosystem catalyst grants to date, including to design and launch a 6-stage model that supports local governments to articulate their demand, assess and select innovations, and engage with aligned innovators and funders to support innovation adoption. GCC has since expanded the initiative to engage with multilateral organizations, like the World Health Organization, to surface country government demand.

GCC utilizes a myriad of tools to measure the success of our portfolio of innovations to achieve sustainable impact at scale. Given the long timelines it typically takes to scale, GCC developed a bespoke approach to modelling potential impact resulting from the innovations we fund at Transition to Scale. The impact models convey the value of investing in innovation now, even if scaled impact is not realized until down the road. Assessments of our portfolio have shown that innovations continue to sustain and grow their impact in the years after GCC funding ends, innovations with local leadership are more likely to sustain or increase impact; and flexibility in funding and support enables innovators to build a solid foundation capable of sustaining and scaling impact.

GCC has cultivated many valuable lessons from our more than a decade of funding and supporting innovations for transformative impact. Our goal going forward remains to test, learn, and iterate how we can best catalyze sustainable impact at scale through our activities and investments.



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