The sweet spot for scaling

Feb 23, 2023

Why is scaling Human-Centered Design (HCD) solutions important for practitioners working on social impact solutions? In January, we hosted a webinar together with Spring Impact to introduce what scaling for HCD solutions means, the different pathways to scaling, and the mindsets needed for scaling. This webinar set the scene for this Masterclass where we focused on building hands-on knowledge on how to scale up solutions – taking theory to practice. Read the summary from part 1

Scale is concerned with increasing the impact on addressing a problem i.e serving a problem rather than growing something.  Scaling helps practitioners and organizations increase the impact of their solution and reach more people. But why should we scale? When done badly, scale takes the form of someone ‘airdropping a solution’ into a new context and expecting it to work there without considering the needs of the people and how they experience the problem. An airdropped solution is not anchored in the local context and is not led by local communities and stakeholders.  A solution at scale must have value to the people it targets. The targeted people should demand and want to interact with the solutions at scale. In addition, an airdropped solution fails to consider a route to sustainable income to cover the cost of the solution at scale. 

“Without a route to sustainable income you will only create a bigger fundraising target the more you scale. It becomes like you creating a monster that you can’t afford to feed,” – Nora Dettor, Director of Capacity Building, Spring Impact. 

A part of the scale process is making sure the solution would be impactful, valued and sustainable in any new context it is scaled to. If scaled to a new location – would it still be impactful? Would this be rooted in the needs of the local community in the new location? What adaptations might need to be made? Would it be valued there? What key stakeholders would need to value it for successful delivery? How might you need to redesign alongside them? Is there a way to make it sustainable there?  The process of scaling is about figuring these questions out while never loosing sight of the the ‘Human centered’ needs you’re trying to serve and the societal problem you’re trying to tackle.


How can you develop a solution with scale potential? 

Spring Impact’s sweet spot for scaling framework forms a great benchmark that shows the three things that practitioners and organizations need to get right at scale; impact, value and sustainability. 

Impact – is the solution impactful? Does it actually make people’s lives better? Does it help address societal problem? 

Value –  will people want it and stick with it? We need to validate that people actually want and demand the solution. Do they engage with it over time? 

“Even if the solution works from an impact perspective, this matters very little if the people who are supposed to be benefiting don’t show up,“- Nora Dettor. 

Sustainability – of a solution is critical to scale. Can the solution impact a lot of people sustainably? Its important to understand what the costs are and where the resources are going to come from to cover these costs. 

“If a solution is not sustainable at a small scale this will be an even bigger problem at a large scale,”- Nora Dettor.


Examples of solutions that achieved impact at scale


In South Africa, over one million young people exit the schooling system each year, ranging from high school dropouts to university graduates. Nearly two-thirds of those young people do not continue to further education, employment, or training within a year. In response to this societal problem, Harambee created a youth employment accelerator. How did Harambee find their sweet spot for scale? The programme has created a lasting change, by helping 1 million jobseekers in 10 years. In terms of value, the employment accelerator was valued by job seekers in that they could join a network get support, training, and career opportunities. Harambee is sustainable because they receive fees from employers as well as funding from government contracts. This has enabled them to reach a lot of young people having over 1 million young people in their network. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Three million people every year die prematurely due to the harmful use of alcohol. To meet this societal problem, Alcoholics Anonymous designed a 12 step program. AA have managed to find the sweet spot where their solution is impactful, valuable and sustainable. Solutions that find this sweet spot have the greatest potential of having impact at scale in the nexus of impact, value and sustainability. For AA impact is proven as their program outperforms other alcohol use disorder treatments at 24 and 36 months. 69% of participants are sober for one year or more. The program further validated the value of their 12 step program by having an average attendance of 2.5 meetings per week and over 30% of new members come from existing member referrals. In terms of sustainability, because AA is voluntary led, and people to a large extent give their time to the groups, it’s a relatively cost-effective intervention.  The funding required is 100% funded by donations from people who benefit from AA. All community groups are self-funded and supported. 

Centrs Dardedze

Centrs Dardedze is a successful NGO addressing unsafe relationships and child abuse in Latvia. Centrs Dardedze developed the Džimba program that teaches kindergarten and primary school children about personal safety and safe relationships in an engaging and exciting way. Read the case study on how they found the ‘sweet spot’ between the value, impact and sustainability of their program so they can scale up sustainably. 


The Doer and Payer at scale

To establish how your impact can be sustained at scale, here are key questions to answer;

  1. Does your solution need to exist forever to achieve your intended impact?
  2. Who will be delivering the solution at scale?
  3. Who will be paying for the solution at scale?
  4. What is the role of your organization and other stakeholders at scale?
  5. What are the implications for how you scale?


  1. Watch the live webinar 
  2. The sweet spot for scaling presentation slidedeck
  3. Thoughts from the community of practice
  4. Nora- Dettor’s learning reflections on scaling up with government partners
  5. About Spring Impact