Today, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) launched Beyond Scale: How to make your digital development program sustainable, a free online guide for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that details key challenges and potential solutions when scaling and sustaining digital development programs beyond the ‘valley of death’ – the problematic phase many digital development implementers face when the pilot is over and the funding may be running out.
The Digital Impact Alliance partnered with BBC Media Action and Esoko, both implementers of long-term, large-scale digital development programs, to share their learning and experiences of what works – and as importantly – what does not. It also partnered with Vital Wave and Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative to source digital development emerging best practices from around the world.
Between 2009 and 2015, the number of public and private sector programs testing digital technology solutions for systemic development challenges in agriculture, education, financial services and health more than tripled. As investment in digital development has grown, so has the need to ensure cost effectiveness, scale and financial sustainability.
However, few digital solutions in global development have successfully sustained beyond the pilot stage to institutionalize impactful change. Many continue to face key barriers that impede growth in areas outside of digital technology expertise, such as sustainable business models and private or public-sector partnerships, regulatory and policy compliance, and the challenges of large scale marketing, distribution and sales operations.
“As organizations around the globe work to take digital development programs beyond the pilot phase, a unique opportunity exists to draw on their experience knowledge and key insights to provide pragmatic how-to guidance for maturing digital solutions and programs,” said Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance. “Through the extensive research and production process we were able to source helpful best practices and guidance and we’re excited to unveil a product that directly helps on-the-ground implementers in digital development organizations.”
Many informative guides have been published about how to approach the design of a new digital solution, but there is little advice available to NGOs that have already piloted solutions and are now at the four-to-five year mark in their programs, trying to figure out how to deliver sustained impact with less reliance on donor dollars.
Beyond Scale aims to fill the information gap. The guide consists of seven modules, each on a different ‘make or break’ topic: Strategy
- Business Model
- Legal, Policy and Regulatory
- Solution Design
- Roll Out
- Human Capacity
- Partner Relationships
Each module offers a series of key steps brought to life by real-world examples from BBC Media Action, Esoko and a wide range of digital development implementers from around the globe. The examples highlight challenges organizations faced when replicating their digital development programs in new geographies, diversifying their products and services, transitioning ownership to a government, throwing out their business model and starting from scratch, or restructuring their organization to reach scale and financial sustainability. Useful tools and templates are included in each module and provide actionable how-to tips to help readers apply learning to their own work.
Beyond Scale also provides contextualized case studies of what has worked and what has not from BBC Media Action and Esoko, which both run digital development programs at scale, and have achieved a significant degree of sustainability.
BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, is delivering free reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health information directly to the mobile phones of millions of families and free mobile-based training and job aids to hundreds of thousands of grassroots community health workers in partnership with the Government of India. Esoko, a for-profit social enterprise that connects smallholder farmers in Africa to agriculture markets, information and finance through simple mobile and web technologies, shared its practices towards supporting successful scale in its digital deployments. As few digital solutions have achieved this level of longevity and scale, globally, DIAL has invested in sharing their approaches, techniques, and tools with the digital development community.
The Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative provided industry expertise, technical precision, and rigor to the development of the guide’s content. Vital Wave, a professional services firm that provides end-to-end services to scale technology in low-resource environments, worked with DIAL and the partners to lead the research, creation and design of the e-book. Vital Wave’s history of working across sectors and industry verticals such as health, finance and education, complements the other partner’s expertise, leading to a practical yet robust tool to further enable the scale of digital implementations.