Evidence into policy

Why we need a southern perspective on scaling impact

By 22/03/2022

Researchers and innovators in the Global South are working to find solutions to address global challenges. Unfortunately, too often good ideas and innovations go underused and before delivering impact the programme ends and funders move on. This article has been cross-posted from a new Call to Action on scaling the impact of innovation and research. This post and the Call were authored by a diverse group of researchers from the Global South with scaling experience.

In the Global South, we are in a time of profound political, economic, social and environmental transformation. To meet our Sustainable Development Goals, and after the setbacks of Covid-19, we need to do things differently.

How can we ensure that new and existing solutions are used to their fullest potential in order to achieve better health and education for all; to realise gender equality, social and economic inclusion, and sustainable peace; to build better infrastructure and food systems; and to tackle poverty and the climate crisis?

We believe that Scaling Science provides one promising way forward. It can help amplify, equitably distribute, and sustain the impact of the best research and innovations.

An example of scaling science: Chagas is a vector-borne disease that kills an estimated 10,000 people a year in rural parts of Latin America. Attempts to control the disease through domestic spraying campaigns had failed, with re-infestations typically occurring within a few months. An ecohealth study in Guatemala found that the disease could be effectively controlled through simple prevention measures, such as renovating homes to make them less hospitable to the triatomine bug that carries the parasite. The home renovation process was found to have positive results beyond preventing Chagas disease too, motivating uptake. As the innovation scaled to new sites in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, communities began to introduce different local features. Read more in Scaling Impact: Innovation for the Public Good, page 97.

However, we have learned through experience that scaling for the public good must be done responsibly.

The microfinance industry is a good example of potential unexpected harms of scaling interventions. In the 1980s, microcredit loans were considered one of the most successful strategies for lifting people out of poverty. Microlending programs scaled at a rapid pace around the world. But belief in the benefits of microlending outpaced the evidence of its effectiveness and obscured negative side effects. Some banks started charging high interest rates, leaving people financially worse off and a number of suicides by borrowers were tied specifically to microlending. This does not imply that microfinance has no merit in development, but it illustrates how complicated scaling even the most promising innovations can be. Read more in Scaling Impact: Innovation for the Public Good, page 35.

The challenges we face today are complex and the future is uncertain. Solutions must be driven by rigorous research and innovation that is connected to local realities and that is justified by those who stand to benefit – and those who may be harmed.

While today’s challenges are felt acutely in the Global South, they affect us all. We believe that local voices build global voices, and local solutions help build solutions to challenges at the sub-national, regional and global levels.

But none of us can do this by ourselves.

We have created this call to action as a first step in building a community of funders, implementers, researchers and innovators who share our vision: a world in which Southern innovation and research lead to sustainable and equitable impact for the public good.

Read the Call to Action from the Global South on scaling the impact of research and innovation. It includes eight actions to transform how funders support scaling efforts. Funders are also invited to respond to the Call.