Why social businesses need to scale up, and how they can

Summary

On 8 February, the Scaling Development Ventures took place at the MIT (USA) to explore “the best way to bring poverty-alleviating solutions to market at scale.” Jean-Christophe Laugée, Social Innovation and Ecosystem Director at Danone, participated in a panel on “Partnering for scale.”

26Mar.
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A little over a month ago, the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology held the second edition of the Scaling Development Ventures. This conference “was conceived by MIT forces committed to entrepreneurship and international development,” with the intention “to convene some of the world’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs, at all stages of development, to explore strategies, models and resources that can help development ventures achieve scale for significant social impact.” Jean-Christophe Laugée, as Social Innovation and Ecosystem Director at Danone, was invited to share his thoughts on how co-creation and partnering can be efficient levers to scale up.

Scaling up to maximise the impact and be viable in the long run

 The Danone Ecosystem Fund has in fact chosen this model to carry out the Fund’s mission “to strengthen and develop the activities of the partners who make up Danone’s ecosystem

Scaling up is in fact key for social businesses to be viable in the long run. Social innovation projects often happen in a given specific context, as a response to a given specific issue. The challenge for them is twofold: first, for the project to have a real, measurable impact; then be able to scale up to maximise this impact and make the project durable and sustainable. To change the world we have to be able to think big – and therefore constantly adapt to new circumstances. From a local response to a local problem, social businesses need to grow their work at some point, and sometimes respond to slightly different issues – with slightly different solutions.

This is where partnering can help. The Danone Ecosystem Fund has in fact chosen this model to carry out the Fund’s mission “to strengthen and develop the activities of the partners who make up Danone’s ecosystem: farmers, suppliers and subcontractors, transport and logistics operators, distributors, territories and local authorities, etc.” Each of the 48 projects supported by the Fund is co-managed by a Danone CBU (Country Business Unit) and a partner NGO – their different approaches and skills help build solutions that both provide an answer to a given social context and have the business ambition and tools to be profitable in the long run.

 

How different skills can cross-fertilise

 

As the Scaling Development Ventures’ programme notes, “social enterprises, NGOs and multinational corporations focused on getting poverty-alleviating products and services to Base of the Pyramid markets, each bring to the equation different strengths. A social enterprise located in the target market may bring understanding of the needs of the population and specific barriers to distribution, an NGO may bring the resources for wide-scale assessment in multiple markets, while a corporation may bring sophisticated supply chain and manufacturing operations.” These three different levels of expertise are mobilised within each and every Ecosystem project, where talents from the company and from local NGOs help build an initiative that responds to local issues and is socially beneficial for the communities. You can read examples of how Danone Ecosystem partners with NGOs on the Merapi Project in Indonesia, the Social School for Women’s Empowerment in Spain, the Milk Collection Communities in Egypt, the strawberry sourcing programme in Ukraine, the Stand by Mums initiative in Romania, etc. For all of these projects, scaling up is on the horizon; the allied strengths of a corporate company with business tools and NGOs with the tools to bring social transformation will hopefully help them continue to drive change on a wider scale in the years to come.

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