Scale or Depth

By Jessamyn Lau

Tomorrow I am teaching a class on how social entrepreneurs address really big problems. We’ll be over simplifying for the purposes of our 1hr 15 min class, but basically discussing two methods of impact and scale: 1) the laser focused approach, 2) the holistic approach.

I’m not sure if the two groups I’m using as examples (Nuru and One Acre Fund) would characterise their organisations in this way exactly, but their models provide an interesting contrast.

One Acre Fund being the example of laser focus, where Andrew Youn created a distinct model of working with small holder farmers, providing them with inputs, education and insurance that in one crop cycle at least doubles their harvests and profits. Small holder farmers + inputs + education + insurance. Very straight forward. Pretty quick. This focused model has enabled them to rapidly grow to 130,000+ families in only 6 years.

Nuru, by contrast is going the holistic approach, where Jake Harriman’s team acts like a general contractor of sorts, bringing in and layering solutions in Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Water & Sanitation, Healthcare, and Education, all within one village. Over time they train and build local leadership to continue to run the programs, so that the village as a whole owns and participates in the overall increase in standard of living. Between 2008 and 2011 Nuru had worked with 2,006 families in their pilot in the Kuria district of Kenya.

Nuru’s model is clearly moving at a slower pace, but goes so much deeper. And OAF’s model is arguably shallower, but has already produced extraordinary scale. So who has the better model?

The theory is that once Jake has got the Nuru model down, their ability to replicate and scale will increase. And now that Andrew has the OAF model reaching so many people in their farming network, he’s starting to layer on other products and services. Perhaps they are both right and will end up reaching similar numbers of people at a similar depth. We won’t know for awhile, it’s early days for them both. But how exciting to watch these two models, which in some ways are vastly different, work towards the common goal of eradicating poverty. We love working with these guys!