A New Way To Scale Organizations

Diving into the ingredients to successfully scale proven innovations with Geraldine Cahill, Director of UpSocial Canada

Why It Matters

UpSocial launched in Barcelona in 2010, with the goal of scaling up demonstrable proven innovations, rather than reinventing the wheel. Now, they’ve launched a Canadian office. The renewed focus on scaling proven innovations well is timely as Canada’s new Social Finance Fund goes live.

Tell us about UpSocial. This is an import from Spain. What has been the impact there that applies to the Canadian context?

It is about getting behind proven demonstrable innovations to help them scale. To do this, UpSocial works with a multi-stakeholder group of concerned people. For example, in Barcelona one of their earliest clients was a telecommunications company focused on educational outcomes among youth. There was a 50 percent youth unemployment rate at the time and that was part of the motivation.

What made it work?

In this case, the company wanted to help solve the problem. UpSocial didn’t want to have to push a process, there had to be motivation there. There are a lot of problems in the world, so there needed to be a desire to meet that demand. You need resources behind you to see something scale. You’re already pushing uphill, so you want to go where there is an interest in seeing a problem solved.

Why is scaling of proven innovations so important in the Canadian ecosystem at this time?

Canada has demonstrated that folks in the social impact system are good at collaborating. We’re also pretty good at piloting projects. However, we see that, despite positive results from pilots, there is an inertia and a fear of investing enough to see a positive pilot program scaled. How many of these can we let languish in a pilot environment when we can be replicating these results and having an effect on so many more lives?

Geraldine Cahill, at left, of UpSocial in Canada. Future of Good.

What happens when we scale poorly or we scale a poor solution?

Part of the reason that things scale poorly is the expectation that if we just put more money behind an innovation it will succeed. Instead, we have to think in a systems way because success is about a combination of assets, its characteristics, and its component pieces. When we take an innovation and scale it, we have to ask what would make it successful in a local context.

What is part of the mandate of UpSocial Canada in your first year?

One is to secure challenge projects that can put the process to work. For me, the R&D engine is important. So using the process to track what is working, and to ask who is missing in the multi-stakeholder process. Did we get a diversity of funders at the table? Where might we have some holes in our research? Were we adapting to things as we went along? So many organizations and foundations have been trying to crack this scaling questions for so long, and it’s important that we continue to dig into them. It’s a question of finding those scaling gaps and learning from them so we can share them with the ecosystem in general.

Can you see any blind spots that you may need to overcome?

When I first saw the model, I noticed there was not a lot of attention paid to the personas of a multi-stakeholder environment. We have to ask, from whose perspective are we looking? Digging into that upfront will improve the quality of research and innovations that are found, leading to improved scaling outcomes.

What domains and issue areas would you like to incorporate in your initial landscape of challenge areas?

Where to begin is a huge question. This process is relatively new in Canada. To some degree, it will be about finding out where the wind is blowing and where there is interest. We have seen interest in the climate solutions space and the circular economy. From a personal passion standpoint, I’d love to see that sense of social inclusion because social isolation results in cascading problems down the line. Additionally, we want to really address reconciliation. The tension gets worse when we refuse to examine it wholesale from a systems perspective.