Lessons Learned on the Road to Scaling a Global Health Social Venture

By Claire Meriwether This blog originally posted on the Innovations In Healthcare blog. Cross-posted with permission.

At the SEAD [Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke] Symposium last week, Asher Hasan, founder and CEO of Naya Jeevan, moderated a panel featuring Andrea Coleman, co-founder and CEO of Riders for Health, and Zack Oloo, CEO of Changamka, who discussed what they have learned while scaling their global health organizations and visions for the future.

Asher offered a perfect close to the Lessons on the Road to Scale session when he said, “The path to scale is not only paved with good intentions, but with good technology, systems, and processes.” Going from a good idea to a successful social enterprise is a tough road. For Andrea, Riders for Health was born because of her outrage that there were people in rural areas who were unable to reach healthcare; with her background in motorcycle racing, she saw no good reason why people should be isolated from care in that way when motorcycles could be used to bring people and care together. For Zack, the spark was the advent of mobile money and advancement of technology; he used these developments along with his background in insurance to start Changamka.

To understand how each of these entrepreneurs went from having innovative ideas to scaling their social enterprises, Asher and the audience asked tough questions to get to the heart of the topics and issues surrounding scale. Here are some of the key messages:

 It is difficult to disrupt the status quo while developing an organization that is sustainable. 
As an organization grows, it is challenging to stay aligned with the mission and disrupt the status quo while also building solid relationships and partnerships – but it is important. Entrepreneurs need to balance staying true to their mission and making sure to foster strong, lasting partnerships as they scale because these relationships are key to creating organizational sustainability.
There will be times on the road to scale when you will have to back-up to move forwards. 
It is important to be willing to admit that something is not working and change course. Zack gave as an example when Changamka first began their marketing strategy for their healthcare funding platform. Their major mobile partner led a marketing campaign on area TV stations for the first six months of the product launch. But the marketing team had not coordinated with Changamka's sales team, leading to a major shortage of vendors selling the product while the advertising was happening. At that point Changamka had to step back, realign the marketing and sales strategy, and start again in order to successfully sell the product to their target audiences.  
Data is key! 
When asked about the tension between using data and relying on gut feeling, both panelists agreed that data is extremely important. Without data, you are unable to analyze what you are doing, if it's working, and where you can tweak things for improvement. For example, Riders for Health collects a large amount of data on the vehicles they operate, how much fuel they're consuming, how many miles they're traveling, etc, to know where to concentrate their fleet efforts. Zack summed it up when he said: “I’m through with gut and feeling. I’m data driven all the way.”
Many thanks to Asher, Andrea, and Zack for participating and sharing their insights!