As a relatively small funder one of the best ways we think we can achieve impact is by funding projects that are sustainable, scalable and/or replicable. One of our primary aims is to achieve long-term, lasting change in our field and the very best projects that come our way have a clearly defined strategy as to how they will be sustainable, scalable and replicable. Here, I want to consider exactly what we mean by these terms and look at some of our grants that demonstrate our commitment to these three key concepts:
- Sustainability: Does a project have a long-term future and is it capable of sustaining itself once Indigo’s funding of it comes to an end? For different kinds of projects, sustainability can often look quite different. A conference, for example, may be a one-off event. Such a project can still be sustainable, however, if it is likely to lead to permanent change or is part of a wider, longer-term effort to bring about change. The grant that we made to the Wikimedia Foundation is a good example of where we looked at the sustainability of a project. The grant – which went towards helping Wikimedia improve the functionality of its mobile editing/reading platform – was part of Wikimedia’s long-term strategy to reach out to new markets and users who rely heavily upon mobile internet access. As the community of African language readers and editors grows, so too does the number of articles, which thereby encourages more people to use Wikipedia as a tool for accessing information. This relationship will ensure that Wikipedia can grow and ultimately sustain itself in languages such as Igbo and Wolof.
- Scalability: While a project that impacts upon 10,000 people is great, an intervention that is capable of being scaled up to benefit hundreds of thousands (or perhaps even millions) is clearly preferable. Often, a project’s suitability to scale can only be proven through a pilot or proof of concept study. And clearly, taking a project nationwide will often require a significant expansion of both personnel and income. We look for organisations that have taken this into account and are planning accordingly. We understand, however, that scalability for a large, well-funded organisation may well be easier to achieve than for a small start-up. We take this into account and look accordingly at what can realistically be achieved. Our recent grant to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) has a very strong element of scalability built into it. By building strategic partnership with government ministries and intergovernmental organisations, LSTM is ensuring that any interventions it does trial and can prove to be successful are capable of being taken up nationwide by the relevant health ministry and supporting bodies.
- Replicability: If a concept or project has been proven to work in one community or region, it can often be exported to other communities or regions in the same country or abroad. While there are, of course, vast differences between countries and even between different parts of the same country, a good project will often be capable of being replicated elsewhere. Replicating a project also avoids the need to reinvent the wheel. If an approach has been proven to work in one place, there should be no need for anyone to reinvent it. We’re always happy to hear from organisations that have thought about this aspect of a project and particularly those that have given some thought as to who might wish to replicate their project. SHM Foundation is one such organisation. Their model of providing SMS peer-to-peer support for mothers recently diagnosed with HIV is one that is capable of being replicated anywhere with sufficient mobile coverage and technological literacy.
The reason we are so passionate about sustainability, scalability and replicability is that we want all of the projects we fund to go on to long-term success. As a funder, one of the most rewarding things you can see is that you and your partners are making real, long-lasting change.
In the next post, I’ll look at the role of evaluation and impact assessment.