Thoughts on STEM education, sustainable business, women engineers, etc. 

No. 5: The Science of Scaling

On Monday, the Blum Center for Developing Economies held an event called "The Science of Scaling." With reps from academia, USAID, the private sector, and NGOs in attendance, the day provoked a lot of conversation around how enterprises and initiatives can grow to reach the impact so fervently desired. Many of the speakers discussed RCTs and the need for measurable impact, as well as the need for a persistent team -- as this work is hard. Here are a few other take-aways I got from the day: 

  • You need to do your due diligence: As much as innovators would like to move quickly from one community to the next, there's no good way to get past the preliminary groundwork. Interventions take time, because they are really dependent on developing relationships. No matter how much the innovator believes in the impact of their work, it's not going to take hold until the community equally values it. 
  • You need to do marketing: Social enterprises are not exempt from investing in marketing. A need exists for enterprises to disseminate their messages. What people often overlook is having a distilled message around what is the action you want your audience to do. I find this is particularly true in academia... academics get lost in the broader conversation and forget to clearly state -- what is the takeaway. 
  • You need to be a translator: Making any form of impact requires talking to people of different backgrounds in a large variety of roles. As an innovator you need to be able to translate your message across disciplinary lines. Unfortunately, engineers are barely trained to communicate let alone become effective communicators in this fashion. But we as a society are missing a common language between researchers of different disciplines -- congruence is needed for implementers, value creators, and business specialists if our work is to be effective. 
  • You will need to fight through accumulated nonsense: This last point is kind of tangential, but one of the speakers was discussing the current state of our global economy and how it is flooded with what he called "accumulated nonsense." I really liked that phrase. So many examples were given in this week's presidential debate alone -- that global warming is a "hoax perpetuated by the Chinese", that Americans "pay high taxes", etc. None of these things are true. If you are a person fighting the status quo, this is what you have to fight in order to make the truth be known. I thought this was a quite salient and timely point!