As social entrepreneurs, it’s common to want to do even more. But how do we go about this? Much like in the traditional business world, our options include scaling or replicating our social enterprise. So, what exactly do scalability and replicability mean, and how might they apply to your organisation?

The Need for Social Enterprise Scalability

In 2019, there was a Forbes article titled: “To ‘Save The World,’ We Need To Scale Social Enterprises,” and, as the 2020 coronavirus pandemic showed us, social enterprises are in fact more essential than ever.

So, what exactly is scaling? And why might it be the way forward for many social enterprises?

Let’s start with a definition of ‘Scale the Business,’ courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

“‘Scale’ is increasingly being used as shorthand for ‘scale up’ (“to grow or expand in a proportional and usually profitable way”) and as a noun that means “proportional growth especially of production or profit” and/or “a large market position.” 

While scaling a social enterprise takes on a slightly different context in that impact is as or more important than growth of profit or production, it still means to grow nonetheless.

In fact, let’s provide another definition, this time from OECD:

“Scaling is defined as the most effective and efficient way to increase a social enterprise’s social impact, based on its operational model, to satisfy the demand for relevant products and/or services.” 

Oftentimes, these two types of growth go in tandem. It’s difficult to have an increase in social impact without the increases in profit, and vice versa.

Defining Social Enterprise Replication

Now let’s get to replication. How does it differ from scalability, and is it for you?

Again, let’s start with a definition, this time from the International Centre for Social Franchises:

“Social replication is defined as: replicating a successful social purpose organisation or project in a new geographical location.” 

This might mean transforming your business into a franchise, whereby both the new and existing locations operate under the same name and standards. It also means accelerated social impact, and the opportunity to get more people involved in your impact, develop and inform best practice, and even influence policies.

But is it Scalable or Replicable?

These sound rather similar, don’t they? And in fact, they are.

The main difference is that replicability entails a copy-paste replication to grow impact. Scaling your social enterprise, on the other hand, means to increase your impact at an increased rate, compared to your costs and effort.

Replication is relatively straightforward. Scaling requires a bit more foresight into how to effectively reach more people, while not diminishing the impact that’s already been made. Both are important and sometimes complementary.

Let’s look at a few examples to better understand the difference.

Say you’re an organisation providing period products to women and girls without access to them. You currently operate within one community, with pick-up sites located around the city. If you were to replicate your impact, it would be relatively simple and require the same steps—establish pick-up sites in a different community, employ staff to operate them, and provide education so that people are aware of your existence.

Let’s say you want to scale up instead. You could create more pick-up sites, provide new ways for people to access your products, or provide more education in the community in which you already operate to reach more people.

It’s important to realise that although similar, scaling especially may prove problematic for some organisations.

For example, if your work is in a homeless shelter, your potential for scaling will be limited by the size of the shelter and the number of residents. So, if you wish to boost your impact, replicating your social enterprise by working with an additional homeless shelter will be your only option.

Is Your Social Enterprise Scalable or Replicable?

As changemakers, we’re blessed (cursed?) by the desire to do more, reach more people, and have a greater impact. If this sounds familiar, scaling or replicating your social enterprise may be the way to get there.

However, as can be seen, there are some limitations—on top of those we’re already familiar with, like obtaining funding, adapting and evolving to crises, measuring and reporting impact, developing partnerships, managing a team, and standing out from the competition.

Identifying Your Ideal Social Enterprise Growth Strategy