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Scaling Social Impact: New Thinking - CASE
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Customer Support We answer within 48 hours! New Thinking Social Entrepreneurship Series. Palgrave Macmillan Publish date: Description Many social entrepreneurs struggle to take successful, innovative programs that address social problems on a local or limited basis and scale them up to expand their impact in a more widespread, deeper, and efficient way. In thinking about how to define their innovations, social entrepreneurs should keep in mind Bridgespan Group co-founder and managing partner Jeffrey L.
The goal is to find a level of detail that is most effectively transferable. Defining an innovation for scale is an iterative process. Some innovations may spread in multiple forms, and definitions may change to adapt to different circumstances or knowledge acquired as scaling efforts progress.
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Regardless, understanding the various forms an innovation can take should help social entrepreneurs determine what exactly it is that might be both worth spreading and effectively transferable to new locations. In addition to considering different ways of defining their innovations, social entrepreneurs should explore the various mechanisms for spreading their impact. Dissemination is actively providing information, and sometimes technical assistance, to others looking to bring an innovation to their community.
Affiliation is a formal relationship defined by an ongoing agreement between two or more parties to be part of an identifiable network. Affiliate networks range from a loose coalition of organizations committed to the same goals, to tighter systems operating similar to business franchises. Affiliate agreements may have general or specific guidelines governing areas such as use of a common brand name, program content, funding responsibilities, and reporting requirements.
Branching is the creation of local sites through one large organization, much like company- owned stores in the business world. Envision these mechanisms for spreading impact as a continuum, from dissemination to affiliation to branching, requiring an increasing degree of central coordination, and typically greater resources.
Dissemination This mechanism is the simplest and usually the least resource intensive, although the disseminating organization has little control over implementation in new locations. Playground Institute for those interested in building or rehabilitating local playgrounds. Affiliation This approach offers the broadest range of possibilities. Consider the experience of Social Venture Partners SVP , which began as a single organization in Seattle in , and has grown into an international federation of 23 loosely affiliated organizations.
Entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Paul Brainerd founded the original SVP in Seattle to engage individual philanthropists in donating their time, money, and expertise for partnerships with nonprofits. As the number of independent organizations grew, a loose network was formed, bound together by the SVP name and a set of shared principles. Social Venture Partners International was created in to support and advance the local network and to build and maintain the SVP brand name.
It protects the SVP brand through a licensing agreement, which allows affiliates to use the SVP name in exchange for adherence to shared mission and principles. While this programmatic innovation is not very complex and should be relatively easy for others to implement in new communities, founder Nancy Lublin nonetheless decided upon a tightly controlled affiliation strategy. She felt brand consistency and awareness were critical to mobilizing resources for rapid expansion.
Thus, every affiliate looks basically the same, operating the same well-defined programs through independently incorporated nonprofits that are members of the Dress for Success Worldwide network. Branching This option offers the greatest potential for central coordination and generally requires the greatest investment of resources by the central organization.
Branch structures are particularly attractive when successful implementation of the innovation depends on tight quality control, specific practices, knowledge that is not explicitly documented or readily communicated, and strong organizational cultures. However, branch organizations are not always highly centralized and can allow significant local autonomy. Take, for example, the Nature Conservancy, an Arlington, Va.
Social entrepreneurs using any of these mechanisms may reach other communities through existing or newly created organizations, or both. While many innovations expand through organizations that already have an infrastructure and support base in place in the target communities, radical or disruptive innovations may be more successful with new organizations free of prior commitments, cultures, or clientele. Combining the possible mechanisms with the different forms for defining innovations yields numerous options that can form the core of a strategy for scaling social impact.
Each will differ in the challenges it poses, and its potential to achieve widespread, timely impact. While some combinations might seem more intuitive, such as dissemination of principles or branching organizational models, we have seen virtually every combination during our research. Any combination is possible, and social entrepreneurs need to consider their options before settling on a specific strategy.
Finding the Most Promising Strategy Faced with this wide range of options, how can social entrepreneurs find the path that is best for them? Readiness, Receptivity, Resources, Risks, and Returns. The initial exploration of scaling options begins and ends with considerations of readiness. First of all, is the innovation ready to be spread?
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There must be objective evidence of success that is not dependent on unique leadership or circumstances. Additionally, the driver of the scaling process must understand the innovation well enough to define it in a way that can be successfully transferred to other communities. What core elements of the innovation are critical to achieving the intended impact?
If it is unclear, the innovation may not yet be ready to be spread or may just be ready for testing and refinement in a few select locations before promoting more widespread dissemination or adoption. This last question leads naturally into a consideration of receptivity — what strategy will best ensure that the innovation will be well-received in target communities? If an innovation is complex, represents a radical departure from accepted practice, threatens influential local parties, or clashes with dominant values or ideologies in different communities, it will likely be met with resistance.
Locals may also resist adopting innovations if they are uncomfortable yielding ownership, control, or credit to outsiders. Are there reasons to anticipate resistance? If so, social entrepreneurs should generally favor strategies with less central coordination and less specifically defined innovations. Unfortunately, openness does not always translate into demand. Receptivity is also reflected in the demonstrated willingness locally to invest time, money, and energy to achieve the impact the innovation aims to create.
Demand tends to be higher when key players in the community recognize an unmet need and perceive it as a priority. Without high local demand, it is extremely difficult to pursue dissemination and loose affiliation strategies effectively. When the need is high but demand is low, social entrepreneurs must find a path that does not require high levels of local investment or develop a strategy that increases demand.
Beyond traditional marketing, local demand can be stimulated by positive media attention, favorable public policy, and even celebrity endorsements. Assessing receptivity is an important starting point for thinking about resources. All scaling strategies, even the dissemination of principles, require incremental resources. Before committing to a specific strategy, social entrepreneurs should have a plausible resource plan in mind. What are the resource requirements for the strategies under consideration?
Can the innovation be defined and spread in a way that reduces costs while preserving effectiveness? For instance, scaling through existing organizations or with the help of partners can lower costs. Once costs are understood, what are the opportunities to generate renewable and reliable revenue streams? Common approaches include charging fees to local sites for membership, training, technical assistance, licensing programs and materials, and other support services. If local demand is high enough, this approach may work. But it will only be successful if central organizations can deliver sufficient value and local sites can function effectively in implementing the innovation and attracting funds.
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If local demand is not high enough to cover all the costs of a particular strategy, including central activities, the gap must be filled. Foundation grants may be available to cover shortfalls for a few years, but it is risky to rely on them long term. More reliable longterm sources include building a large individual donor base or finding avenues to generate more earned income.
Social entrepreneurs must also consider risks to society and their organization. How likely is it that an innovation will be implemented incorrectly or will fail to achieve its intended impact? If this happens, what are the potential negative effects on the clients and communities being served? If the consequences are severe and the innovation is inherently difficult to execute correctly, central control through either branching or tight forms of affiliation will be more crucial. However, social entrepreneurs should recognize that risks to the central organization generally increase with these strategies since they often require greater investment of resources and more responsibility for local implementation.
If failure occurs, branch and tight affiliate organizations will not only have wasted significant time, money, and resources, but their reputations and the credibility of their innovations will also suffer. Impact is not just about serving more people and communities but about serving them well. What strategy will reach the most locations most effectively? While dissemination and loose affiliation strategies may reach more locations more quickly and at lower cost, these returns are only valuable if the innovation spreads in a form that delivers higher-quality services than already available.
In some cases, greater coordination and slower expansion might be desirable to assure high-quality impact. Tighter affiliation and branching strategies can also enhance returns by improving organizational efficiency and effectiveness.
Coordination may help to build a recognized brand, improve organizational learning, create more economies of scale, and transfer intangibles — such as culture and knowledge that is based on experience but difficult to communicate. These potential benefits may provide compelling support for tighter strategies, but an accurate picture of potential returns demands considering the costs of coordination, which generally requires more resources and takes longer. When the need is urgent and the risks are low, it may be wise to forgo the benefits of central coordination.
If at this point one or more scaling paths seem promising, then it is time to revisit readiness and consider organizational readiness. Spreading an innovation effectively requires skills quite different from those of local service delivery. Before settling on any particular strategy, social entrepreneurs must determine whether their organization, including their board, has the will and ability to develop the capabilities critical for executing a strategy successfully.
It is an iterative process of learning and testing ideas.
Scaling Social Impact : New Thinking
Stoneman was the executive director of a small public school in East Harlem, N. They decided to rebuild an abandoned building in the neighborhood, working after school and on weekends. But the Youth Action Restoration Crew, which had renovated an abandoned building, ultimately stood out as a particularly powerful experience for the youth and a highly visible improvement to the community. By , as the crew was completing its first building, Stoneman was convinced that this innovative program was ready to spread beyond East Harlem.
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