[How To] Design for (Real) Impact

What do Kickstart, Bridge International Academies and the One Acre Fund have in common? All three have been specifically designed to maximize impact.
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What do Kickstart, Bridge International Academies, and the One Acre Fund have in common? First, they are all extremely high performance organizations that have grown substantially since launching. However, and more interesting to this conversation, is that all three have been specifically designed to maximize impact. The founders are focused on improving their ROIs, not return on investment in the traditional sense, but return for impact (total costs of project/total impact created).

This is also not measured on inputs (i.e. the many non-profit organizations who report $$$ fundraised, schools built, or computers delivered), but real impact focused on positive behavioral changes in the communities where they work and live. Impact focused on positive outcomes in health, education, or household incomes.

Designing for impact, maximizing this impact and scaling is exactly the type of programs that the Mulago Foundation supports and this past week I attended a retreat hosted by the Foundation for their Rainer Arnhold Fellows program at a beautiful hideaway in Bolinas, Calif.

Over the course of seven days, the fellows participate in a series of conversations focused on fundraising, building and managing Boards of Directors, and most importantly how to ensure that their organizations are designed to maximize impact and scale.

"If an intervention can't demonstrate real impact, it shouldn't be scaled up. We don't invest in organizations that don't measure impact: they're flying blind and we would be too" says Kevin Starr of The Mulago Foundation.

One of the tools that the Mulago Foundation is helping to pioneer is its Design Iteration Flow, otherwise known as the "DIF."

The DIF tool walks organization leaders through a series of steps that help to clarify its mission and focus the organization on the impact it is trying to create. In my own work with Farm Builders, I've found the process to be extremely helpful in mapping the behavioral changes needed to ultimately reduce poverty for rural farmers in Liberia.

The DIF starts with the Big Idea: One sentence on "why we are here and what are we trying to do" including how the organization expects to scale. An interesting finding from Mulago's research into how organizations scale is that there are really only five proven methods. Thinking about how one's organization fits into these criteria can be especially helpful in clarifying how a social entrepreneur prioritizes the organization's work.

For example, the big idea for Nuru, an organization becoming the "general contractor of the NGO sector" as articulated by founder Jake Harriman is:

"We're trying to end extreme poverty in remote areas by training and equipping service minded leaders with the BEST solutions in poverty reduction to empower them to lift themselves out of poverty within five years."

An important point to the Nuru model is that within five years the western staff exits each community where it is working, leaving behind a completely self-sustaining model that continues to grow on its own and impact an entire nation.

The DIF tool then walks the user through a series of steps to better clarify the impact desired and how to create the behavioral changes needed, ending with steps to help outline the organizational and financial model required to support its intervention (more information in future weeks on each of these topics). Download the DIF and begin filling out for your own organization here.

The rest of the week consisted of numerous meetings with a host of immensely talented faculty members and highly skilled, energized, entrepreneurs focused on positive social change. Each of the Rainer Arnhold Fellows have created amazing organizations. Learn more about how they are helping to better the communities most in need and how you too can get involved and make a difference!

Name: Komaza
Big Idea: Reduce poverty by helping poor, dry-land, African farmers plant trees.

Name: iTeach
Big Idea: Pilot interventions to improve HIV and TB services in low-performance, high-burden settings -- that save lives. iTEACH is based at ground zero for the global HIV-TB co-epidemics, in KZN, South Africa.

Name: Nuru
Big Idea: End extreme poverty in remote areas by training and equipping service minded leaders with the best solutions in poverty reduction.

Name: Samasource
Big Idea: End poverty by connecting the poor to work over the Internet.

Name: It's Wild
Big Idea: Use conservation agreements to turn poachers into farmers, with access to markets in return for "conservation farming."

Name: FrontlineSMS:Medic
Big Idea: Help community health organizations extend care using innovative and cheap mobile technology.

Name: One Heart World-Wide
Big Idea: Provide a culturally sensitive network of safety for pregnant women and their newborns in remote areas of the world. One Heart has delivered operations in Tibet and now extends into rural Nepal and Mexico.

Name: Global Micro Clinic Project
Big Idea: Turn patient groups into high impact self-providers of health care.

Name: D-Rev (Design Revolution)
Big Idea: Design and deliver revolutionary market-driven technologies to better health outcomes and increase incomes in the developing world.

Name: Farm Builders
Big Idea: Rebuild broken farms by providing a suite of support services for smallholder farms. Farm Builders is starting in post-conflict Liberia with rubber farmers whose lands were destroyed during the conflict.

Name: Bamyan Media
Big Idea: Produce reality TV series showcasing entrepreneurs and their business models to drive mass enterprise creation. Bamyan Media is the producer of the hit "Dream & Achieve" reality show in Afghanistan.

Name: Smallholders Foundation
Big Idea: Use rural radio programs in Nigeria to deliver productivity-boosting education to remote farmers.

Name: Jacaranda Health
Big Idea: Deliver a new model of maternity healthcare that provides an affordable, high-quality care for the urban poor.

Name: Working Villages
Big Idea: Create profitable vocational farms that train farmers in a new 10-acre model.

Name: Wild4Life
Big Idea: Leverage a network of partner organizations to give rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa access to HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment.

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