Miller Center's Replication Initiative, launched in 2016, is evolving every day. How do we define replication? Imagine a rock thrown into a pond. Where the rock hits the water is the "splash" of a pioneering social enterprise or business model that tackles a social problem. The solution, or growth of the original social enterprise are the ripples in the water. Replication supports the ripple-effect by enabling these innovations to diffuse further and faster. Here we see huge development opportunities for the social impact sector.

What Replication Means for Social Enterprises
Traditionally, replication has meant finding the optimal business and technology solution to a particular problem, then copying and disseminating it. This could include setting up franchises, opening new branches or satellite operations, establishing licensing arrangements, or forming distributorships.

Sistema Biobolsa reimagines waste as a resource by converting manure into biogas and bio-fertilizer. They have patented a prefabricated bio-digester system that transforms animal manure into biogas while producing a natural fertilizer. Through fermentation, the system produces biogas that can be used in cookstoves. Small and medium-scale farmers generate affordable, clean energy and improve their incomes.

Some social enterprises are well suited to replication. Sistema Biobolsa, a 2014 GSBI alum based in Mexico uses biodigesters to convert farm waste to energy. Their successful social enterprise combines the opening of new branches with partnerships that lower costs to replicate its business model from Mexico to countries in Central America and Africa.

This approach succeeds because the fundamentals of the social enterprise—farmers that generate organic waste and communities able to use the natural fertilizer and biogas generated by the simple, affordable biodigester—are relatively similar across diverse geographies, cultures, and environments.

What’s emerging is the need to expand the traditional definition of “replication” when applied to most social enterprises. A more useful concept is to identify sets of best practices, along with the conditions under which the social enterprises operate, to inform the development of “playbooks” that can help up-and-coming social entrepreneurs learn from the achievements and setbacks of those who have traveled similar paths before.

Using these playbooks, social entrepreneurs addressing particular problems could overcome obstacles more quickly and efficiently, by learning from entrepreneurs who have already tackled the same problems. As a result, playbooks could reduce the risk of failure for new social enterprises by enabling their entrepreneurs to take advantage of proven approaches to financing, pricing, marketing, and/or distributing their solutions—and to use their creative energy getting to market more quickly and efficiently.

Emphasizing best practices could also reduce the risk for capital invested in social enterprises. 

Shifts in how we perceive social enterprise success and replication could help mobilize and aggregate capital, including from impact investors. This, in turn, makes possible the aggregate social enterprise scaling that’s required to trigger a meaningful reduction in global challenges such as poverty, environmental degradation, and gender inequality.

Want to learn more about replication and partnerships?

Contact Neal Harrison, Associate Director of Replication.


Banner photo courtesy of Bana