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Development At Scale

Lessons Shared by Educate!


Implementing development work at scale. Everyone talks about it. Funders are pushing for it. The SDGs demand it. But what do we mean by scale? What does it look like for a once-small NGO to scale their operations and impact?

These questions of scale are prevalent in the Posner Center community. To begin a conversation on best practices in scale, we recently drew upon on the experience and success of our Tenant, Educate!.

Educate! prepares youth in Africa with the skills to succeed in today’s economy. Launched less than 10 years ago in 2009, the organization served a modest 234 people that year. Their vision for 2024 is to directly impact 1 million youth, and indirectly impact an additional 4 million youth.

In early October, Educate! presented their journey to scale in a Development Dialogue in the IEEE Global Classroom. The dialogue was both a broader exploration of the concept of scale, as well as a focused case study built upon their experience to date.

Led by Rachael Miller, External Relations Manager, the presentation was an in-depth exploration of Educate’s key reasons for scaling, their strategy for scale, and the challenges and key lessons in this process. For them, the reasons for scaling are clear and include the following: the magnitude of the challenge requires an approach at scale, proven results carry a responsibility for further replication, and the importance of scale to drive cultural shifts in how education is led. Educate!’s scaling strategy includes two interrelated approaches: direct program delivery in schools as well as national-level partnerships with governments to create impact through the secondary school system.

While they are scaling rapidly, Educate! has also taken a measured approach to scale, alternating program pilots with rigorous evaluation and program improvements. In 2012-2013 they worked with Yale’s Innovations for Poverty Action to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT). Key results include a 64% increase in business ownership and a $173 increase in income, nearly double that of the control group (check out the full study here). These results helped make the case for their expansion into Northern Uganda in 2015 and 2016. Educate! was then in 10 times as many schools as when they had conducted the RCT and they wanted to see if they had been able to maintain quality at that scale. They partnered with BRAC to develop a quasi-experimental evaluation. Again, results from this survey were impressive, including: Educate! Scholars earned 95%—nearly 2x—more income from a base of $88.43 in the comparison group (see the full study here). Finally, the last aspect of this scaling strategy is increased systems integration into national-level education systems in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Despite positive evaluations and rapid expansion, it hasn’t always been a smooth journey. Rachael shared that operational issues have often been the most challenging, from procurement and transportation to effectively moving money around the globe. As an educational organization, their ‘product’ is very human-capital intensive, so hiring, training, and retaining top talent is an ongoing challenge. A shift from being a small, nimble organization to a larger, more-established and recognized organization has created shifts in how donors relate to the organization.

This dialogue was a valuable one to hold in the Posner Center community, where ideas sparked during the discussion can be immediately applied to every day work. One attendee shared that, “it was great to learn the history of an actual case of successful scaling.” Another remarked that it was a useful tool for thinking about scale in her own organization, and expressed appreciation for the insights and honesty in the presentation. Educate!’s story is an instructive one that really highlights the importance of using evidence to scale programs, grow financial support, and grow impact. We’ll continue to follow their progress towards their ambitious 2024 vision!