Scalability: What it takes

Whether you are a non-profit working in the slums of Africa or a mature organization ready to go to the next level, scalability requires specific capabilities. 

In the middle of the poverty-ridden HIV capital of the world, Durban, South Africa, some fundamental truths about scalability were crystalized for me. Scalability has always been about organizational growth to manage increased demand. It requires intentionality—a vision for the future, a catalyst or concept for which there is potential for greater demand, effective and consistent operational processes, and the right people. Having a desire or a need is never enough. For Key of Hope, an organization working in Durban to mentor children’s minds (education), bodies (health and wellbeing) and spirits (Christianity) in order to change their future, expansion is an urgent need. Although they reach over 2,000 children now, there are so many more that need help. We are working together to enable them to significantly expand. The process for them raises many of the same questions and issues as it does for any organization. 

Most organizations have the desire to scale but fail to develop a vision for the future that captures their full potential. Why? Because our days are filled with what matters now. Booking that project, managing supply chains, getting products out the door, finding employees, and putting out fires. In that environment, it is difficult to take the time to analyze opportunity, clarify the future state, and motivate others to make it happen. That is why the right people are the key to success. 

The GrowthDNA™ model has proven successful in helping organizations rethink their potential and operationalize to achieve it. There are four key strands. It is leadership’s responsibility to generate Confidence in making bold decisions about the future by relying on market data, and Clarity in describing the organization of the future. The next two are integrally connected to people—collectively and individually. Commitment has to do with whether the organization’s associates are energized by the future, understand their role relative to it, and are willing to perform at a higher level to help the organization achieve its goals. For scalability, the super star strand is developing a growth-minded Culture. 

The first three—confidence, clarity, and commitment—in a dynamic environment are always evolving. The end goals and high-level strategy remain while the mechanisms and processes to get there may change with technology or market success. However, a growth-minded culture is what sustains an organization year after year in its pursuit of that future potential. It requires every associate to believe that they can add value to the organization beyond their job description, have been empowered to make improvements in line with the vision, and are part of a team of people who are just as dedicated to the results. To have a growth-minded culture they must have confidence, clarity, and commitment but above that, they must have a culture that not only empowers but requires them to act. 

This last week was spent with a non-profit organization called Key of Hope ( operating in the heart of Durban, South Africa. They currently mentor thousands of children from the poorest neighborhoods in the city, most of whom are orphaned more than once as relatives die from AIDS and must fend for themselves for daily survival. Key of Hope’s vision is to unlock the future of Africa by empowering children to be ambassadors of change in their families, schools, and communities. They offer emotional support, spiritual growth, education, human services (such as food), and help with specific issues. Their vision is highly scalable. While they have grown significantly from their formation in 2007, there are literally millions of children in Durban alone that would benefit from their work. And even more in other parts of Africa and around the world. 

They are a rare instance of being blessed with the right people. Working with them is like receiving a physical and metaphorical hug on a regular basis. The enthusiasm of the associates is contagious, and they have deep-seated commitment to what they are doing as well as to raising the bar every chance they get. For most of them, they are a product of the work they now do as they grew up in the programs they now administer. 

Their challenge to scalability is quite clear and is two-fold. 

  1. In a very personal, relationship-oriented approach, including home visits to each child in their programs so they can assess any individual needs, they are a very manual organization. Machines don’t walk the slums and visit with mommas and hand out hugs hundreds of times a day. While this is a challenge, we are evaluating different expansion models that maintains the personal element in service delivery while scaling back-office processes and especially fund raising. 
  2. Messaging will be critical to stimulate fundraising. As Jane Goodall, international icon in earth preservation says, “You cannot argue your way to agreement. You must touch their heart.”  I promise you, you cannot meet these children, walk their neighborhoods, exchange hugs with them, hear their joyful singing, and not know that they are indeed the future of Africa and the world. To help them blossom is helping our world be a better place. 

In their desire to scale they have the same requirements as any organization. If they can apply these principles to succeed, your organization can too! What is at stake if they don’t is too difficult to ponder. It is my honor to support this organization in this journey and work with them on the components of scaling.

Would you like to participate in the journey too?! You can today in one of  these two ways: 

  1. Provide your input on what messaging you think would most appeal to others around the world but especially in the US. 
  2. Get involved! Visit the website and learn more about the organization and what you can do to aid in their mission.

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