The Ripple Effect of Replication

by Neal Harrison, Associate Director of Replication, GSBI

How do we define replication at Miller Center? An analogy for social enterprise replication is to imagine a rock thrown into a pond. Where the rock hits the water is the splash of a pioneering social enterprise technology or business model tackling a social problem. The growth of the original social enterprise or the adoption of the enterprise model are the ripples in the water. Replication, to us, supports the ripple-effect by making these innovations diffuse further and more quickly. This is where we see huge development opportunities for the social impact sector.

Miller Center's Replication Initiative was launched in 2016. Over the past year we approached the problem of how to replicate tested and proven business models through a series of experiments. We wanted to better understand the challenges of replication and where to best position our future work.

The first set of experiments focused on services for GSBI Alumni social enterprises looking to expand internationally. For example, we teamed up with the International Center for Social Franchising (ICSF) to support Sistema Biobolsa (GSBI Alumni 2014) and their efforts to scale their biodigester technology and business model from Mexico to Kenya. We worked with Sistema Biobolsa to design their replication model to afford control over their business functions. Therefore, they decided to open up a new branch in Kenya and leverage strategic partners to offset some of their business costs such as marketing and technical services.

While the path to open new branches is the right choice for Sistema Biobolsa’s ambitions, it is not easy. To achieve this scale, it is necessary to have the appropriate type of investment, tight management of the supply chain, and operational efficiencies to expand. Social enterprises such as Sistema Biobolsa with strong leadership and dedicated resources for expansion may be able to pull this off, but what about the dozens, or hundreds of other business models addressing social challenges? How do we increase their ripple-effect?

We want to see more organizations such as Sistema Biobolsa that are ready to replicate and decide to either design a replication model or share their business model for adoption. Going forward, we are trying ways to integrate replication readiness into our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) Accelerator.

Our second set of experiments have involved looking at an alternative path. We have been working to understand the optimal ways to spread best practice business models and to increase the uptake of scalable solutions. Our idea is to develop a series of “Replication Playbooks” designed to support the launch of enterprises adopting existing business model solutions. These Playbooks will include details such as operating model and business logic, supply chain models, customer segmentation, impact metrics, and financing requirements. Adopting entrepreneurs leveraging these Playbooks will be able to use their creativity to adapt these business models for their local markets.

Let's look at Last Mile Distribution enterprises as an example. There are various types of Last-Mile Distribution social enterprise models that are all doing the same thing: distributing life-changing products to people in need. Whether they are serving rural populations or urban slums, there are commonalities within the value chain: sourcing, storage, training sales agents, distribution, and finance options. If we develop a Last-Mile Distribution playbook based on a handful of successful enterprises, we can catalyze the growth of more companies localizing proven solutions. Perhaps we can even improve all Last-Mile Distribution enterprises in the process by sharing the adoption models and lowering barriers to entry.

This is at the heart of the next phase of the Replication Initiative. We plan to test our assumptions with local partner organizations and GSBI Alumni social enterprises. Together, we hope to incorporate replication readiness into GSBI, diffuse pioneering social enterprise models with local partners, and provide the support necessary to increase the ripples in the pond.