August 24, 2016

Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: August 2016

This month's recommended reads include articles from Tom Vander Ark of Learn Capital on lessons learned by platform businesses like Uber and how they could help transform education; Mark Bonchek of Shift Thinking on the paths and pitfalls in creating exponentially growing businesses; Amy Mei Chang of USAID on geospatial data efforts necessary to fight malaria and how crowdsourcing help fills gaps in data; and more.

By: Jeff Bradach

I’m constantly looking across sectors in search of different perspectives on achieving impact at transformative scale. Here are five interesting articles I came across this month:

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1. Platforms Have Transformed the Economy. Is Education Next?: In the context of reviewing the new book Platform Revolution, Tom Vander Ark (@tvanderark), of education venture firm Learn Capital and formerly of the Gates Learning Foundation, cites the lessons of platform businesses like Uber and Airbnb. By contrast, learning management systems and other digital tools fall “well short of transformational” impact. I’ve shared articles about the promise of platforms for achieving transformative scale before—here, it’s exciting to see Tom’s clear thinking about the current and future implications for one specific wing of the social sector.

2. How to Create an Exponential Mindset: Mark Bonchek (@MarkBonchek), the founder and CEO of Shift Thinking, writes in Harvard Business Review about paths and potential pitfalls in creating an exponentially growing business. The social sector can benefit tremendously from the rapid scale that is possible through digital models. Rather than focusing on strategy or organization, this piece highlights the mindset necessary to develop a genuinely innovative, scalable digital model.

3. How the UK Halved Its Teenage Pregnancy Rate: This is an interesting piece in the Guardian about England’s rapidly declining teen pregnancy rate. The program’s success relied on coordination of multiple stakeholder groups, political support at multiple levels, and—critically—a change in social norms. All this was possible because, “unusually for government schemes, efforts really were sustained for the full 10 years and ambitions weren’t lowered, despite difficulties and slow progress at the start.” It makes you wonder how many efforts that might have had significant impact are ended prematurely. And, at the same time, how does one tell whether that is the case, or the effort simply isn’t going to work?

4. The App Helping Africa’s Midwives Save Lives: The smartphone-based Safe Delivery App (SDA) was developed and piloted in Ethiopia to address the “vast majority of maternal and newborn deaths [that] could be prevented if health workers attending births had better emergency skills and knowledge.” It’s now being scaled to reach 10,000 health workers—and a million women—in the next 18 months. The life-saving opportunity at full-scale is exciting to consider.

5. Data vs. Mosquitoes: Ann Mei Chang (@annmei), the chief innovation officer of USAID, describes the ongoing geospatial data efforts necessary to fight malaria in Mozambique. The lessons learned about using crowdsourcing to fill in data gaps have implications outside malaria control, and even outside global development. “Real-time data can give us immediate insights into what is working and what is not, enabling us to monitor interventions closely, and improve learning and adapting while programs are underway.” These types of efforts, with some similarity to initiatives such as Ushahidi, offer ways to gain insight and take action at a scale that was previously difficult to achieve.

The top five pieces from July and June are available on our blog.

You can always find our latest insights on the Transformative Scale Resource Center. I also Tweet regularly about transformative scale: @JeffBradach.

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