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From pilot to scale: strategies and tactics to achieve systemic change

Ahead of Palladium’s session at the BEAM Exchange Conference 2016 (Lusaka, Zambia 19-20 May) Economic Growth expert Fabiola Esposito explores the challenges we face when taking development projects from pilot to scale and the issues our team will be discussing in Lusaka.

Palladium’s Propcom Mai-karfi is making rural markets work for the poor in Northern Nigeria. (image: Nick Cavanagh)

By how many tractors are we short? In Nigeria, where the average number of tractors per 100 km2 of arable land is 6.8 in comparison to a world average of 195.3, there is a need for over 70,000 tractors before the market begins to meet demand. That is, there are over 16 million potential smallholder customers across the country.

The problem is complex, the environment particularly challenging. So, how do we achieve impact at scale when developing solutions that need to address systemic constraints and create lasting change? What strategies can we use when working in fast-changing and demanding environments?

Whether through piloting and experimentation, more intense upfront analysis or working on an ‘at scale’ solution from the outset, there are several intervention options to explore. Exploring these and understanding their pros and cons is the main objective we have set ourselves for this week’s session at the BEAM Conference in Lusaka.

Chaired by Sachin Gupta, Economic Growth Director at Palladium, the session will explore these different modalities and try to establish some consensus on what works and what doesn’t. The conference will be attended by numerous experts and implementers of market development programmes. It is a fantastic opportunity to invite and gather contributions from across the development community.

We will explore three interesting examples of scaling impact through different approaches. These mirror different interpretations of scale in various contexts.

The first is our own Propcom Mai-Karfi programme in Nigeria; a £25 million market development programme aiming to improve the lives of 500,000 poor farmers by targeting rural markets and working with businesses to upscale solutions for farmers. The availability of tractors is just one of the problems the programme faces. When looking at the scale of the opportunity in Nigeria, it is clear that scaling up is a key priority.

So, what strategies has the programme put forward? Propcom Mai-karfi has used pilots to test and demonstrate new business models, which have the potential to be scaled up and thus encourage expansion, crowding in and responses from other market players in the value chain and supporting markets. And what do we learn from it? The importance of the agility and learning to adapt quickly ensures you can respond to changing external factors, find the right partners and strike deals to help prove your concept.

Another interesting example of scaling impact is Hub387, the Marketmakers project which presents the potential of making an impact at sectoral level. The project’s aim is to create a vibrant IT community and create a space for knowledge exchange in Bosnia. The strategy chosen by Marketmakers in this case was to skip the pilot testing phase and jump straight to scale when the opportunity arose. The success of the programme demonstrates that expansion is not always a path to scale, but the ability to adapt and respond to the local context, by creating partnerships and generating recognition, are equally important. Despite the relatively concentrated context of the ICT sector in Bosnia, we are keen to hear at the conference if and how the model could be replicated elsewhere.

M-PESA is a mobile money solution that allows users to send and receive money using SMS technology - http://ow.ly/R5jz300itcZ.

The last example takes us to Kenya, where M-Shwari offers a paperless banking service through M-PESA – a mobile phone-based banking service. M-Shwari implemented an innovative business model for an ‘at scale’ platform (M-PESA) whilst at the same time providing learning for further scale reach, through other market players crowding in by ‘expanding’ and ‘responding’. While a pilot phase was considered, the product launch was so successful that it eliminated the need for piloting, with a million potential new customers registering on the first day of launch.

These examples will provide the context for the session. What is the right balance between analysis and experimentation? How much risk are we willing to take? Should interventions aim for scale by design or simply experiment and test, iterate and scale whenever they see potential? How should a programme decide when to scale up an intervention?

These are all relevant questions to consider and there are lots of ideas to share. We are looking forward to the BEAM Conference to discuss the most powerful strategies in achieving systemic change to ensure our development projects maximise positive impact for the communities in which we work.

…and what will be their solution to getting tractors to 16 million farmers?