The pursuit of sustainable development and climate impact at scale – or scaling, for short – has been receiving growing attention in the international development community over the last few years. The exponential growth of the Scaling Community of Practice (SCoP) membership from some 40 participants at its founding in 2015 to about 4,000 in 2024 is one indicator of this interest. There are many others, including statements by leaders of major development finance institutions, such as the World Bank’s President in his speech at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Annual Meeting in October 2023, and the inclusion of achieving impact at scale now found in many mission statements of international and national development agencies.

This is largely due to recognition that approaches to development and development finance are not having the needed impact relative to the size of the problems, as evidenced by the fact that the world is off track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. In addition, there is general acknowledgement that despite their tremendous promise, investments in innovation have not realized their potential.  While donors, national governments and the private sector could and should allocate more financial resources to meet the development challenge, that is an unrealistic solution given the size of the financing gap and the fact that the history of development finance tells us that money alone will not do the trick.  Therefore, scaling development impact for given resources – improving long-term impact-cost ratios – is increasingly being turned to as the solution. In this understanding, scaling is not simply doing more, though it is often used that way. It involves achieving economies of scale, scope, continuity and cooperation so that greater impact can be achieved with whatever financing can be mobilized. For funders it means, ideally, that scaling by domestic actors continues after funder efforts end and reaches more people and places as needed to address development challenges.

Despite the growing buzz around scaling, and while there are of course examples of successful scaling, most development observers would agree that not enough is being done by the principal development actors – governments, private investors, civil society, and development funders – to pursue scaling systematically. To the extent that scaling does occur, it is mostly ad hoc and opportunistic, and not the result of a deliberate organization-wide strategy.  What is needed for scaling to really have an impact is for development actors to mainstream scaling, i.e., to systematically integrate scaling into their strategies, business models, operations, and managerial and staff mindsets and incentives. While funders are not the only relevant actors, many implementing organizations and local actors report feeling constrained from systematically pursuing scaling approaches because of the way funders operate. 

In this context in early 2023, the SCoP launched the “Mainstreaming Initiative.” The Mainstreaming Initiative is a two-year “action-research” effort to study mainstreaming scaling in international development funder organizations. It followed a year-long preparation process, which included the preparation of a background paper and intensive discussion among the SCoP’s members. The purpose of this initiative is to (i) assess progress to date, (ii) develop lessons learned, and (iii) disseminate those lessons to encourage and inform further mainstreaming by interested organizations. To facilitate learning, the initiative focuses on funders that are interested in partnering with the SCoP and known to have made some progress in mainstreaming scaling. This interim synthesis paper reports on the results of the first year of the Mainstreaming Initiative.



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